United to offer non-stop flight to Denver from Lafayette

United Airlines will offer daily direct flights from Lafayette to Denver starting Aug. 19, a new service targeting leisure travelers and the growing number of local workers heading to natural gas fields in the West and Midwest, the Lafayette Airport Commission announced Wednesday.

The commission also announced Delta Airlines’ plans to offer one 108-seat flight each day to Atlanta starting July 3 — a big step up from the 50-seaters that Delta, United and American Airlines now fly out of Lafayette.

Airport officials have been working for the past year to secure a nonstop flight to Denver, one of the top five destinations for Lafayette travelers in recent years, according to information from the Airport Commission.

Commission Chairman Matt Cruse attributed that to skiers and other leisure travelers, as well as oil-and-gas workers commuting from their home base in Lafayette and using Denver as a hub to jump off to job sites throughout the region.

“The oil industry is going to eat that up,” Lafayette Regional Airport Director of Aviation Greg Roberts said of the Denver flight.

Lafayette Economic Development Authority President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux said the direct flight to Denver will offer an easy option to help Lafayette hold on to any oil-and-gas businesses considering a move closer to out-of-state activity.

“Getting from here to there keeps the companies from moving away,” Gothreaux said.

The Denver flight adds a fourth direct-acess hub for flyers out of Lafayette, joining Dallas, Atlanta and Houston.

The changes announced Wednesday came after the Lafayette Regional Airport reported a record number of passengers in 2013, the fourth record-setting year in a row.

The total number of commercial passengers in 2013 was up 2.3 percent from 2012, from 460,938 passengers getting on and off planes in 2012 to 471,332 in 2013, an increase of 10,394, according to numbers from Airport Commission.

“Right now, all of our carriers here are seeing some of the highest passenger loads of any airport our size in the country,” he said.

Those numbers are expected to drive airline interest in flying larger planes out of Lafayette, Roberts said, and Delta’s decision to offer a 108-seat flight to Atlanta could be the first of more upgrades to come.

“I think the conversion from 50 seats to 79, 90, 100 seats: We are on the cusp of that,” he said.

The Lafayette Regional Airport has proposed a temporary 1-cent sales tax to help pay for a new terminal to accommodate more passengers and larger planes.

The measure is set to come before voters this fall.

If passed, it would be levied from April 1, 2015, to Nov. 30, 2015, generating about $35 million for a project estimated to cost $90 million.

The balance would come from state and federal funds and borrowed money repaid over the next several years.