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CEO FOCUS: Southwest Airlines, Welcome to Syracuse

By Robert M. Simpson

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One of the most consistent priorities identified by our members large and small and across every sector — is air service. We regularly hear about the need for more competition, lower fares, and more nonstop destinations. And of course, [that leads to] the inevitable question: when is Southwest coming? [Now], we can answer that question, as Southwest Airlines has announced it will begin service in Syracuse Nov. 14.

Southwest will begin offering three flights a day between Syracuse and Baltimore-Washington International Airport. From there, Southwest passengers can connect directly to 68 other cities. [The airline will also offer] weekly flights directly to Orlando, which introduces even more competition on that route. Nonstop flights to additional cities could be announced in 2022.

One of the things that struck me in our conversations with Southwest, and something we can all take pride in, is the growth potential they see in this market. Originally, Syracuse was to be an additional feed into their network or an “origin” market. However, after spending some time here, they saw all this region has to offer, including the Adirondacks, wine country, world-class fishing and so much more. It was then they recognized Syracuse as a “destination” point on the Southwest map.

Beyond tourism, we know that competitive air service is a vital factor in economic development and that frequent service to a variety of destinations attracts firms by facilitating face-to-face contact with businesses in other cities. This is why our team, led by Kevin Schwab, has advocated for enhanced air service and why welcoming Southwest is an important milestone in those longtime efforts.

Our region is also incredibly fortunate to have the exceptional team at the Syracuse Regional Airport Authority, led by Jason Terreri and Jennifer Sweetland. They have done an amazing job of making the case why Syracuse should be Southwest’s newest destination by providing data and giving Southwest’s route planners a real picture of what’s happening here. It is exactly the forward thinking, innovative outreach that we envisioned a decade ago when we led the push to create a professionally run airport authority in Syracuse.

It is also important to acknowledge those CenterState CEO members who demonstrated that enhanced air service is priority to the business community by stepping forward with $250,000 in contributions to our Air Service Development Fund. The fund was critical to our pitch to Southwest and will be used to offset startup costs in the market and help to ensure that Southwest gets off to a successful start in Syracuse.

[The Southwest] announcement is one that we can all celebrate, as strong air service reflects on the strength of our regional economy. We look forward to continuing our efforts to deliver better, [less expensive], and more convenient air service to Central New York. For more information, contact Kevin Schwab, CenterState CEO’s senior aviation industry advisor, at kschwab@centerstateceo.com.        

Robert M. Simpson is president and CEO of CenterState CEO, the primary economic-development organization for Central New York. This article is drawn and edited from the “CEO Focus” email newsletter that the organization sent to members on June 10.