FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- Mexico becomes Southwest Florida International Airport's third non-U.S. destination in December when MetJet launches weekly seasonal flights between Fort Myers and the coastal resort city of Cancun.
Airport officials say they'd love to expand their international reach even farther, but the potential is slim for landing nonstop flights to coveted destinations in South America and the United Kingdom.
Airlines are more risk-averse after a rash of bankruptcies followed by mergers and service cuts to bolster profitability. When contemplating new international service, carriers usually decide it is safer to stay with bigger cities in Florida and assume people will rent cars and drive to resort destinations, including the Fort Myers area.
"We're reaching somewhat of a plateau (in service)," said Bob Ball, Lee County Port Authority executive director.
"It takes 29,000 to 35,000 passengers a year before it becomes economically feasible to add a direct flight to anywhere," Ball told the News-Press .
The airport already is in rare company: Of the 429 commercial airports in the United States, it's one of just 26 with nonstops to non-U.S. destinations.
Canadian service began nearly two decades ago. Nonstops to Germany debuted April 1994. Service to these countries has held on, thanks largely to foreign nationals establishing second homes here.
The airport has year-round service to Dusseldorf, Germany, and Toronto, Canada, along with seasonal service to Montreal and Ottawa.
MetJet CEO Mike Heisman said he wanted Southwest Florida International to be a stop on his Green Bay, Wis.-to -Cancun service mainly because the local airport already had Customs and Border Patrol service, which Green Bay doesn't. Fort Myers also is well-known to Midwesterners seeking warm winter vacations.
However, Heisman said he dismissed the idea of adding flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico, because it is more than twice the distance in air miles from Fort Myers than Cancun.
That's important, because Heisman counts on a significant amount of the plane being filled in Green Bay before stopping in Fort Myers to pick up additional passengers. Also, Sun Country - the airline providing the aircraft and crew - needs the plane back in Minneapolis by day's-end.
The road to new air service often comes in baby steps, said Carol Obermeier, the port authority's director of aviation market development..
For example, Silver Airways launched daily nonstop service between Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 5. Fort Lauderdale already has South American and Caribbean flights.
The new service to Fort Lauderdale and the resulting connections elsewhere could help the local airport build a better case for coaxing an airline to test a Fort Myers flight to a Caribbean destination, Obermeier said.