- Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2015

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - The airport in the southern Utah city of St. George is getting a new name as part of the city’s effort to beef up its status.

The City Council has approved changing the name from St. George Municipal Airport to St. George Regional Airport, a new title that was suggested by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector. Updated signs will be posted inside and outside the terminal.

City officials say they are applying for grant money to expand air service and hope the new name will help recruit more carriers and bring in new destinations.

“It denotes bigger services, more commercial services available from a marketing standpoint,” Airport Manager Richard Stehmeier told the Spectrum newspaper of St. George (https://bit.ly/1HqDZQr). “I know as a pilot I’d take the ‘regional’ every time, because I’d know they had more services.”

The St. George City Council approved the change on Thursday.

The airport opened four years ago, replacing a facility on a mesa. The $160 million project was the biggest in the city’s history, and authorities said it would drive economic growth and improve the city’s image. It now offers four daily flights to Salt Lake City and two to Denver.

Traffic is growing. Nearly 60,000 people flew out of the airport last year, a nearly 9 percent increase from the year before, according to FAA data. That’s a 60 percent jump from 2010, the last full year the city’s old airport was in use.

Past studies have shown that there’s plenty of local demand for flights, but nearly 80 percent of the passengers in the market area use other airports. St. George has a tough time competing with low-price fares in Las Vegas, located two hours to the south by car.

Southern Utah officials want to expand the local offerings. Municipal and airport officials are asking for a $400,000 federal grant available from a U.S. Department of Transportation program aimed at smaller facilities. They’re promising to put in local money if they can get another flight to either Los Angeles, a destination offered at the old airport in 2008, or Denver.

A similar grant helped entice SkyWest to offer a St. George to Denver flight two years ago. The city and other local governments kicked in a total of $300,000 in cash, in-kind funding and pre-purchased tickets.

St. George is about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City and has a population of about 75,000 people.

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