news / press room

Tucson getting nonstop flights to San Jose, Seattle

by Jeannine Relly
Arizona Daily Star

AUGUST 24, 2000, A2

The number of daily flights from Tucson to San Jose was incorrect in an article on Page A1 yesterday.

There are 18 such flights a day — a number that will rise to 19 in October when Alaska Airlines begins nonstop service from Tucson to San Jose and Seattle.

Tucson will get nonstop air service to San Jose and Seattle on Oct. 1 - something business and community leaders say could boost the city's growing high-tech industry.

Alaska Airlines will fly once a day to San Jose and twice a day to Seattle with rates as low as $218 round trip to San Jose and $304 round trip to Seattle. Several other airlines fly from Tucson to those cities, but with stops along the way.

"Direct air service is a competitive advantage," said John Grabo, vice president of business development with the Greater Tucson Economic Council. "(Companies) want to be able to conduct business in a day and get back to the Bay."

With cities around the country courting high-tech firms, airline service could affect whether a city like Tucson makes it on the short list of candidates, Grabo said.

Airport location, nonstop and frequent flights are crucial for many companies considering an expansion or relocation in a city, experts say.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines said the high-tech industry here played a role in the company's decision in relocating here after a seven-year hiatus from the market.

Southern Arizona's strongest high-technology fields are in the aerospace, optics and information technology industries, which officials say have strong overlap with industries in the Bay and Seattle metropolitan areas.

Business leaders here say many of Tucson's industries -from tourism to plastics and materials - are concerned with the lack of nonstop flights from Tucson.

"We're always struggling with the lack of nonstop flights from major metropolitan areas to Tucson," said Jean Mc-Knight, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"There are some meeting planners that say, 'My CEO will not go to a city without a nonstop flight.' So I know we've lost business."

Today, nine airlines offer nonstop flights from Tucson to 14 cities in the United States and Mexico.

While Tucson International Airport now offers 14 flights a day to San Jose and 14 more to Seattle, Alaska Airlines' nonstop service to both cities offers the promise of shaving hours off the travel schedules of business travelers.

"Air transportation is one of the critical issues identified as one of the speed bumps in the road to economic development in Tucson," said Bob Breault, co-chairman of the Arizona Optics Industry Association. "Time is money to us."

In a survey last year, a quarter of 100 information technology businesses here said San Jose and San Francisco were top business destinations for their companies, said Stephanie Lemme, director of economic development with the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, which conducted the research, determined those businesses employed 1,030 workers in Tucson.

"(The flights) will definitely promote business growth here - the faster they can get there the more efficient their business is," Lemme said. "If (air service) becomes a huge challenge for a company, they might expand somewhere else or they may relocate their facility."

Officials also said the nonstop flights to San Jose and Seattle, cities with direct flights to Asia, would speed transit time for international export shipments.

"Nearly half (45 percent) of Arizona's exports go to Asia," said Frank Woods, director of the U.S. Department of Commerce export assistance center in Arizona. "These flights will make it easier for international shipments to go overseas on direct flights."

The new flights will kick up the competition on those routes, which generally drives down airfares, said Paula Winn, director of information and public affairs for the Tucson Airport Authority.

Nonetheless, price shouldn't impede business travelers. National surveys indicate that corporate travelers rank convenience higher in importance than low-priced fares, said Forrest Harding, an airline consultant and professor of marketing at California State University, Long Beach.

In Phoenix, airline service has proved crucial in corporations' decisions to expand there, said Steve Vierck, senior vice president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

The Phoenix council recently surveyed companies to determine the factors that influenced their decision to expand.

"The number of direct flights to their headquarters operation was a significant reason for transferring here," Vierck said.

"Of all the factors I've seen over the years, the ones with the most importance recently are airline connections and their ability to fly quickly from one company location to another.

Ephibian Inc., a Tucson-based Web development firm, has more than one-third of its clients in the Bay area.

"Progress like this is huge for our business," said Henry Guy, the company's chief financial officer.

"Our folks are engineers, hired for their time to develop software code. It saves us time and money if they have more time to spend with a client because they spend less time flying."