As it moves to launch, consolidate and then fill in its VPS-centered scheduled network (served primarily by Boeing 737 Classics), Vision Airlines is already looking carefully at destinations elsewhere in the U.S. which it could add – as long as they fit neatly into a network strategy the airline has already mapped out, Meers says.
Vision Airlines is already looking at destinations in the Northeast U.S. to add to its Niagara Falls presence. “It would be a safe bet to see us with north-south routes from the Northeast area to Florida,” says Meers. “We’re looking at a number of airports, starting probably next fall.” Initially, these routes “may be seasonal, but if we get the support we would go year-round”, he adds.
The airline is equally aware that, through charters and schedules, it is building up a considerable presence throughout Florida: in the Florida panhandle at VPS; in central Florida at Orlando Sanford (SFB); in the Tampa Bay area at PIE; at Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport (PGD) in western Florida; and at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) and Miami International Airport (MIA) in southeast Florida.
“I think it would be reasonable to assume that we would continue to build up flights to each of those destinations,” says Meers. Vision is also aware that it may be in a position to build intra-Florida links because of its growing presence at the six airports.
Vision Airlines also sees network-development potential at Louisville International Airport (SDF), which not only already has a strong Vision Airlines presence but also has a sophisticated airport and road infrastructure because it is the location of UPS’ global parcel-sorting hub. Meers sees SDF as highly complementary in network terms to VPS. From the latter, Vision Airlines is able to build north-south routes and links throughout the southern U.S. From centrally located Louisville, Vision Airlines may be able gradually to build a network linking northeast and southwest, and northwest and southeast.
The carrier is also potentially interested in operating scheduled services between Northeast and West Coast destinations, according to Meers. “Next winter we also have our eyes on Hawaii,” he adds. Vision already operates four Boeing 767-200ERs on charter flights and is currently completing ETOPS qualification. Depending on the availability and cost of aircraft, it views the 767-200ER as potentially a good aircraft for serving Hawaii on a charter or a scheduled basis.
However, Meers stresses that privately owned Vision won’t be rushed into growth just for the sake of it – and it won’t be tempted to buy sizable numbers of aircraft. In addition to one 737-800 which it uses for charter flights, Vision also operates one 737-300 and four 737-400s. The airline sees these 737 “Classics” as the right aircraft to build its scheduled-service network, rather than the much more expensive 737NG models – which are in high demand (particularly 737-800s) and expensive to acquire.
Vision Airlines has already contracted for another 737-300 and another 737-400 and these aircraft will join its fleet in time for its scheduled-service expansion at VPS on March 25. The airline is also in discussions about acquiring two more 737-400s during the next six to nine months, to give it a total of nine 737 Classics. “I think we will get to 12 [737 Classic] airplanes in the next 12 months – particularly because of what, for lack of a better term, are ‘snowbird’ routes,” says Meers.
It appears likely Vision Airlines will choose to operate these routes – which allow people in the northern U.S. and Canada to fly south to sunnier climes during the winter – as seasonal scheduled services. The airline could just as easily operate them on a charter basis, but Meers notes that “there is a limited upside on charter” because the contracts are finite and specify fixed amounts of capacity.
Such limitation of opportunity is the main reason that, after 16 years in operation, Vision Airlines has taken the decision to expand its scheduled-service network on a substantial scale.