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Atlantic Coast Airlines ...Springfield-to-Chicago service starts Sept. 1

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Atlantic Coast Airlines has set a date. Springfield-to-Chicago air service on the Dulles, Va.-based carrier, which does business as United Express, will begin Sept. 1, said Jennifer Heronema, public relations manager for the airline.

A limited $99 one-way fare will be part of the kick-off promotion, Heronema said. The last day of purchase for those tickets will be Sept. 7. Following that, prices will be $246 for round-trip tickets purchased 21 days in advance, and $479 for round-trip tickets purchased seven days in advance, with prices subject to change, Heronema said. The price for a one-way, walk-up ticket will be $441.

Flights will be taking place on 50-passenger regional jets. Three flights will begin in September. Those flights will leave Springfield at 6 a.m., 10:10 a.m., and 2:30 p.m. The 10:10 a.m. flight will end Sept. 30 and be replaced, beginning Oct. 1, with a flight that departs Springfield at 11:19 a.m. A fourth flight will also begin on Oct. 1, departing Springfield at 9:05 p.m. Flight time is one hour and 25 minutes each way.

Atlantic Coast will also hire some Springfield employees. Heronema said she expects about 10 people will be hired from the local market. The company has yet to determine where its ticket counter will be inside the airport or where it will have gate space.

Another airline, Aspen Mountain Air, is set to begin another daily flight from the Branson Airport (at Point Lookout) to the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport.

Aspen Mountain Air began round-trip service to Dallas May 15, and announced plans for an additional flight to have begun June 4, said John Greer, president and chief executive officer of SunWestern Management and SunWestern Partners, the parent companies of Country Tours and the Ozark Mountain Management Group.

Both wholly-owned subsidiary companies are involved in marketing tour packages in Branson. Country Tours arranged the landing agreement for Aspen Mountain Air at the Point Lookout airport, Greer said.

Country Tours has been renovating the airport, with an eye toward expanding its capabilities and "getting more people into Branson."

SunWestern is based in Dallas, Texas, while Country Tours is based in Boca Raton, Fla. Ozark Mountain Management Group is based in Branson.

Like Atlantic Coast, Aspen Mountain Air is offering a $99 promotion for a one-way ticket purchased by someone in the Branson area, Greer said. That promotion will continue through the summer and has, as yet, no concluding date.

The new flight will depart Dallas at 4:55 p.m. and arrive in Branson at 6:10 p.m., departing Branson at 6:35 p.m. and arriving back in Dallas at 8 p.m., Greer said. The flight established May 15 departs Dallas at 11 a.m., arriving at Branson at 12:40 p.m., then departing Branson at 1:10 p.m. for arrival back in Dallas at 2:30 p.m.

The flights are on a 32-seat turbo prop aircraft called the Dornier 328, Greer said. The planes fly at "near jet speed," he added.

Country Tours is a 1 1/2-year-old investment group that plans to renovate and expand the Point Lookout airport, among other projects, to enhance tourism in the Branson area, Greer said.

The company is working on an extension of the airport's runway so it can accommodate jet traffic, and on getting air service to and from Branson from several other major cities. The runway expansion will take place over a period of about the next 18 months, Greer said.

Country Tours is actively seeking Branson air service to and from four cities, Greer said: St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago and Memphis. That Springfield already has the nonstop Chicago service should only enhance air service for everyone in the area, Greer said.

"We can bring competition into this marketplace that can be as good for Springfield's air service as anything else. Prices will be better and service will be better," Greer said.

A group of shareholders provides the investment money for Country Tours, which is in contrast to the municipal nature of the Springfield-Branson Regional Airport. The company is looking to bring people not only into the Branson airport, but into Branson, Greer said.

"Our company is one that is a huge supporter of what's going on in Branson. Our main goal is just to get more people into that market," Greer said.

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