Charleston's only discount airline reaffirmed its commitment to the region Wednesday, saying recent speculation that it might jettison the market is unfounded.
In fact, AirTran is planning to add two seasonal flights to Atlanta to its local schedule April 14 and May 21, said spokesman Judy Graham-Weaver.
"We want to assure our customers that we will be there when they want to fly on us," she said.
Even so, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce is worried enough about losing the carrier, which is credited with helping to drive down local airfares, that it has called a March 4 meeting with supporters and an aviation consultant to discuss "how we can ensure that AirTran doesn't leave Charleston."
"With the downturn in the national economy, AirTran has experienced a drop in passenger traffic that has put Charleston at risk of losing low-cost air service," the chamber said in a message to some members Tuesday.
Mary Graham, the chamber's senior vice president for public policy, said the meeting was triggered by the recession-induced decline in air travel. She said AirTran, like most carriers, is anxious to sell more fares at Charleston International and that the chamber shares those concerns.
"We're just trying to get word out to remind people and to push folks that we just need to boost their traffic," she said. "We're very concerned if things don't pick up we could lose them."
The chamber, which helped recruit AirTran in 2007, estimated that the airline saved local fliers more than $80 million in its first year.
Graham said radio spots will start next week to spread the message to local air travelers. Also, the Charleston Area Convention & Visitor Bureau will target certain cities outside of the region that the airline serves, Graham said.
For now, at least, AirTran insists that it's staying put. Tad Hutcheson, vice president of marketing and sales, said in an e-mail Tuesday that "we have no plans to discontinue service in Charleston."
Graham-Weaver said Wednesday that while the airline appreciates the show of local support and the chamber's efforts "to keep people aware of our service in Charleston, it seems they may have overreacted here."
David Jennings, chairman of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, which runs Charleston International Airport, said AirTran has not suggested "that it is going anywhere."
"We have no indications that anybody is going anywhere," he said of the seven carriers that serve the airport. "By the same token, we're worried about everybody. Traffic is down, the economy is going to hell, and airlines are losing gazillions of dollars. So we're worried about everybody."
Jennings estimated that traffic at Charleston International skidded about 12 percent in January compared to the same month last year.