A major addition to Indianapolis International Airport that was delayed by the pandemic is back on track. Tennessee-based Contour Airlines is resuming its plan to add three daily nonstop flights to currently unserved “drive market” destinations. The airline originally announced plans to set up operations in Indy during the Routes Americas conference in February 2020, but those plans were put on hold as the travel and hospitality industry began to feel the effects of the pandemic.
Marsha Stone, senior director of commercial enterprise with the Indianapolis Airport Authority, tells Inside INdiana Business that Contour remained committed to Indy during the pandemic.
“What we’re seeing is a confidence in the local economy and that we are starting to see this recovery and resurgence in air travel and we were just waiting, and Contour was waiting, for the right time,” said Stone. “There’s been a lot of factors that have folded into their decision to move forward and launch with this new service in the fall.”
Beginning in October, Contour will launch flights to Nashville, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. Stone says the airport has seen a demand for nonstop flight options to markets to which people typically drive, and the three cities are growing business locations.
“We work so closely with all of our community-based and business-based organizations so that we can have our finger on the pulse of what the business community is really looking for and where that demand exists, so that we can marry together the availability of aircraft and an airline strategy, and tie that strategy back to business demand or to leisure demand,” said Stone.
Matt Chaifetz, chief executive officer of Contour, says Indy remains a focal point for the airline.
“We see a tremendous amount of opportunity, not just for these initial three markets, but for additional service from Indy,” said Chaifetz. “Certainly, Indy has a thriving, vibrant business community. It’s a metro area with a sizable population, but it’s not a major airline hub from one of the legacy carriers, so that leaves Indy with mid-sized markets that are lacking nonstop service and that’s where Contour can come in and plug those holes for certain markets that would certainly be served if Indy was a legacy airline hub.”
Contour will be utilizing a fleet of 30-seat ERJ-135/145 aircraft, which it says is more conducive to shorter flights to drive market destinations. The airline’s original plans also included an aircraft base at the Indy airport, but Stone says those plans are still on hold. However, Contour still plans on adding more than 20 jobs for its Indy operations.
Stone says the addition of Contour, as well as Sun Country Airlines launching from Indy in May, shows a continuing increase in air travel, even more quickly than originally anticipated. She says at certain times, traffic at the airport is higher than it was in 2019.
“Seat capacity is another data point that we are measuring and for the month of August, we are within 5% of the available seats that were at in 2019, pre-pandemic,” she said. “So the ability for people to travel is really premised on the availability of seats on an aircraft and so…we are outpacing the rest of the country in the return of seat availability.”
Contour’s new nonstop routes will begin October 12.
Stone says Contour remained committed to Indy during the pandemic.
Chaifetz says Indy remains a focal point for the airline.