NEWPORT NEWS, Va. ( TheStreet) -- People Express, a low-fare innovator in the 1980s airline industry, is being brought back to life by a veteran airline executive who thinks he has found a niche.
The niche is Virginia's Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, which had AirTran Service between 1995 and 2012. At its peak in Newport News, AirTran was carrying 450,000 passengers annually on nine daily non-stop flights to Atlanta, Boston, Orlando and New York LaGuardia.
But Southwest (LUV), which serves both Norfolk and Richmond, acquired AirTran in 2011 and shut down the Newport News operation.
"AirTran established a nice base of travelers, then all of a sudden disappeared two years ago when Southwest pulled out," said PeoplExpress CEO Jeff Erickson, best known for spending three years as CEO of TWA in the mid-1990s. Newport News has "a latent demand for air service and a great history of traffic -- that is why we are here," he said.
PeoplExpress -- it uses a bastardized spelling -- will begin flying June 30, offering service from Newport News to Boston, Newark and Pittsburgh. Four additional destinations -- West Palm Beach, Fla.; Atlanta; St. Petersburg, Fla. and New Orleans -- will be added by the end of August.
Erickson, 69, began his airline career in 1968 as a performance engineer for Pan Am at JFK. His resume includes stints as Atlas Air CEO and Reno Air founding CEO. The former resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., moved into a Newport News area home on Saturday.
Erickson never worked for or even flew on People Express, but he recalls the "culture of respect for passengers.