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Monday, August 12, 2013 - 12:52pm

Cost Still Vexes Savannah Air Travelers

Savannah has some of the highest average airfares in the country, according to a new report.

The Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport ties for fourth place in a list of costly flying.

A report from the US Transportation Department ties Savannah with Washington DC's Dulles Airport for pricing.

The average cost of a ticket here is $493 dollars.

That's $114 dollars above the national average.

Airline pricing expert and aeronautics professor Alan Bender of Embry-Riddle University says Savannah has yet to convince a discount airline that it can make money here.

"Even if you have service by three or four airlines -- as Savannah does -- if you don't have a low-cost carrier in the mix, the fares are going to be high, in case after case," Bender says.

Bender says that that case is hard to make when so many travelers can drive a few hours away to fly low-cost carriers Southwest out of Jacksonville or Jet Blue out of Charleston.

Savannah's dilemma is partly due to the city's "not-too-small, not-too-big" market size.

"It's such an important city in terms of commerce and business and tourism that it's always going to have service," Bender says. "It's just going to be more expensive and it's going to be with smaller aircraft."

Airport officials have tried for years to attract discount service with little payoff.

They recently waged an aggressive and public campaign to convince Jet Blue to fly here.

Instead the airline began offering service to Charleston -- Savannah's longtime commercial and cultural rival.

Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport Executive Director Greg Kelly says Jet Blue's decision was disappointing but understandable.

"They're almost double in size than we are and their community did get behind the effort to attract them in," Kelly says. "We have since gotten support for our community and our community is stepping up to the plate to help us attract additional air carriers with an incentive package."

That support includes an air service development fund that aims to lure new airlines to Savannah.

The fund is supported by the Savannah Economic Development Authority, Savannah Chamber of Commerce and Visit Savannah.

"We're still relatively small in the scheme of things," Kelly says. "As low-cost carriers start to expand, we think we're positioned pretty well for someone to try us out once again."

AirTran flew between Savannah and Atlanta for about a year and a half before pulling out in 2009, citing lack of demand.

Allegiant Airlines flew between Savannah and Ft. Lauderdale for less than a year before pulling out in 2011, also citing lack of demand.

And Vision Airlines flew between Savannah and Destin for less than three months before pulling out in 2011, also citing lack of demand.

Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport is served by American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways.