It took years of courting, a pitch from the Kings of Leon and the promise of economic incentives to lure nonstop flights from London back to Nashville.
But two decades after direct-to-London service stopped, executives at British Airways are confident this time it can succeed.
Nashville last had nonstop service to London in the mid-1990s. But back then, the goal was to ferry passengers across the Atlantic from several different originations, and the flights were discontinued when American Airlines closed its Nashville hub.
Now, says British Airways' Simon Brooks, Middle Tennessee has enough international fliers of its own — particularly people willing to buy seats in the profitable first-class and business-class cabins at the front of the plane.
"Just from the research that my team and I have done, we're aware of some really considerable wealth in Tennessee," he says. "We know that we're going to be able to fill those forward cabins with people that want to enjoy a little bit of extra comfort doing over to London and beyond."
British Airways is planning to start service from Nashville International to London Heathrow in May with five flights a week, enough to carry more than a thousand people each way. Flights are expected to take 8 hours to 9 hours. Music, health care and other business executives will be important customers. So will leisure travelers.
Nashville International Airport also hopes to draw from Europe. BNA already had plans to double its capacity to handle foreign passengers early next year. British Airways says the expansion was a positive factor, but it likely would have extended service to Nashville anyway.
The company says Nashville will be its 26th U.S. destination. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry says London has been a high priority, in part because of connections forged in the entertainment industry. Several Nashville-based celebrities helped pitch the city to British Airways, with Kings of Leon going so far as to host company executives at a concert last month in London's Hyde Park.
State and local government are smoothing the runway for London service. Tennessee plans to give British Airways $1.5 million dollars in subsidies over the next two years. Metro Nashville, meanwhile, has pledged to cover up to $500,000 in losses while the service gets off the ground.
Officials say they're hopeful London will be just the start of more international flights — especially places such as Tokyo.
"Asia and Japan are huge markets for us in particular," says Gov. Bill Haslam, "so we would like to prove the success for that venture through this as well."
Japan is Tennessee's fourth-biggest export market, after Canada, Mexico and China. The United Kingdom is eighth.