South Carolina's busiest airport is going to get busier this summer.

Fare deal

To launch the new Charleston air service, JetBlue Airways will offer a special $44 fare for flights on Tuesday and Wednesday between Washington and Charleston from June 24 to July 30. The one-way tickets can be bought today (March 6) only.

JetBlue Airways is adding two daily flights from Charleston International to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., starting June 19, the airline announced Thursday.

"Just last week we celebrated our first year of serving the Charleston market, and it has been a terrific success for JetBlue," said Scott Laurence, the airline's vice president of network planning. "Thanks to the strong support of the local community, we're pleased to be growing in Charleston and look forward to bringing down fares to the nation's capital, just as we've done to other cities we serve from Charleston."

Charleston area officials hailed JetBlue's announcement as a huge boost to the tourism and business travel market.

"Those slots are like gold," said Gary Edwards, an aviation consultant for Charleston County Aviation Authority and the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "For them to commit those seats to that market is a big load of confidence for what they feel the opportunity is for Charleston. It's a very good day for us."

The flight schedule is arranged where a business traveler can leave Charleston in the morning and be home for dinner, he said. The earliest flight leaves Charleston at 7:25 a.m. The latest flight from Washington arrives in Charleston shortly after 8 p.m.

JetBlue is picking up the Washington routes because of the merger of American Airlines and US Airways. The merger required what will become the new American Airlines, the world's largest air carrier, to give up 52 landing slots at Reagan National to offer more market competition. JetBlue gained 12 of those slots in January and plans to add a dozen round-trip flights from Washington to cities it currently does not serve or add more flights on existing routes.

In addition to Charleston, the airline said it will add Hartford, Conn., and Nassau, Bahamas, to the list of cities it will serve from Reagan National. It will also expand its existing service between Washington and Tampa, Fla. Other new routes from the nation's capital will be announced later this year.

US Airways now offers five flights from Charleston to Reagan National, commonly called Washington National. It's unknown yet if Charleston will lose any of those flights.

For now, it's adding flights with JetBlue's decision.

"The bottom line is we are picking up 200 seats a day times 365 days a year, and that's a big deal," Edwards said. "It gets JetBlue travelers to three of our top markets."

JetBlue started serving Charleston in February 2013 with two daily flights to JFK in New York and a third to Boston. It later added a second flight on Saturdays to Boston.

"The hospitality industry is delighted that JetBlue has added a third city with direct, nonstop flights to Charleston," said Frank Fredericks, chairman of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Just as more people are discovering the charms of Charleston, JetBlue is helping make travel to our destination easier and more affordable than ever before.

"We are delighted to be in partnership with this progressive airline."

Starting Friday, the low-cost carrier will increase the size of its jets leaving Charleston for JFK from 100-seat Embraers to 150-seat Airbus models because of increased demand. The new flights to Washington will seat 100 each.

"I think it's really great for the passengers and people in this area to have additional seats," said Paul Campbell, director of airports for Charleston County Aviation Authority, which oversees the county's three airports.

"It's also a great opportunity for us to bring more visitors from that part of the world. JetBlue is providing great service to Charleston, and we look for them to expand service to other areas as options become available. The whole destination travel market here is going to continue to grow and continue to attract people."

Charleston's air travel continues to surge in part because of the spin-off from Boeing Co.'s growing airplane assembly operation at the airport and because of Charleston's national accolades in the tourism industry.

Nearly 2.9 million travelers passed through Charleston International in 2013, a record number that's expected to continue to grow. Airport officials project the number of passengers to climb to 3.5 million by 2022.

The extra seats being added could also affect fares positively.

Based on the latest available figures from the third quarter of 2013 from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average airfare in Charleston was $398. That's $3 higher than in the second quarter, but 8.1 percent lower over the July-September period in 2012.

The national average for the third quarter of 2013 was $390, up 5.1 percent over the same period a year earlier. Charleston's rate ranks 50th highest among the nation's top 100 airports. For comparison, Charleston's airfares have dropped 34 percent since 2000, when the average rate was $602 for the third quarter.

Huntsville, Ala., reported the highest average fare of $559 for the third quarter while Atlantic City, N.J., posted the lowest average rate of $157.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or