Action News Jax Investigates: Despite JIA's rapid growth, no nonstop flights to West Coast

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville International Airport is growing at a record pace. In 2018 it was the fastest growing-airport in the country.

More passengers means more flights, but with all the recent success, we still can't fly nonstop to the West Coast. Action News Jax investigates why and what a team at the airport is doing to change that.

As the population of metro Jacksonville soars, so does the number of passengers who fly in and out of Jacksonville International Airport.

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"I fly out of here, all... the... time. This will be my 114th segment this year," said Bernie McDonnell, a retired surgeon-turned medical consultant.

McDonnell is helping fuel the record-breaking growth at Jacksonville International Airport.

Last year airport traffic increased by 15.4% outpacing Austin, Texas, at 13.8%, San Jose, California, at 13.2% and Nashville, Tennessee at 13.0%.

In the first quarter of this year, passenger traffic at Jacksonville International grew by 25%.

The airport is growing so fast it needs to add gates.

They'll go on Concourse B which will be built in between Concourse A and Concourse C. Those new gates are expected to be ready for planes and people by 2022.

Still, even with all that growth, there are many cities we can't fly non-stop.

"I would love more nonstops. I would love a nonstop to Phoenix (and) Los Angeles," McDonnell said.

"I don't think it'd be a surprise to somebody who travels often that where we really need air service is in the West Coast."

Greg Willis is the marketing program manager for the airport. He's part of a team that works to get bigger planes and more flights to Jacksonville.

He said, "I can tell you 200 people a day fly from Jacksonville to Los Angeles."

Those people don't fly nonstop.

Even though Willis says Los Angeles is Jacksonville's largest unserved market and Jacksonville is Los Angeles' largest unserved market.

Jacksonville had a direct flight to Los Angeles until 2008, but when the economy crashed the flight was grounded. Willis and others have been working for 11 years to get it back.

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Willis says, "Spirit announced last year but that was five years of work. Denver announced United last year. That took 10 years."

It isn't just flying west. Jacksonville is also the largest U.S. market without nonstop service to anywhere in Europe. Part of Willis' job is to educate airline executives beyond the numbers.

"We're one of the best opportunities, but we've met with airlines over in Europe before... they've asked if Jacksonville has a beach. A lot of people think Florida starts at Orlando,"

Willis wouldn't say if or when we might get new nonstops to Europe or California, but Delta did just launch a new flight to Raleigh, North Carolina, this month.

McDonnell said, "Bottom line is, you couldn't ask for a better airport for your base airport."

Willis and the marketing team at the airport meet with Jacksonville businesses for input and support on efforts for new flights.

Willis says it helps when you go to an airline's decision-makers and tell them specific businesses would support specific flights.