A small start-up airline plans scheduled flights to a handful of Southern cities from DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, the latest attempt to tap a travel market dominated by major carriers at Hartsfield-Jackson International.
Southern Airways Express, which started flying in June from its home base in Memphis, said it will offer four daily flights from DeKalb-Peachtree, or PDK, to six cities beginning Sept. 9.
The airline will use single-engine Cessna Caravan turboprops seating up to nine passengers.
Chief Executive Officer Stan Little said the carrier, which has targeted beach and other leisure travelers since it was formed, hopes to attract business travelers in Atlanta. He said his carrier will get them to their destinations faster, without parking or baggage fees, without Transportation Security Administration hassles, and more cheaply.
Most of the Southern Airways’ fares from PDK will be $89 to $249 each way, and no flight will be more than 90 minutes, Little said.
“In the normal time required to get from Buckhead or downtown to Hartsfield-Jackson and then to the departure gate, our passengers through PDK will already be at their destination,” Little said.
Southern Airways is not the first such carrier that has attempted to carve out a niche in the shadow of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and now Southwest, which dominate Hartsfield-Jackson.
PDK airport Director Mike Van Wie recalled that Day Jets, which also targeted business travelers, offered scheduled flights from PDK about seven years ago but went out of business after 18 months.
“If there is a community in the Southeast that could have successfully supported something like this it would already be happening,” Van Wie said. “That said, I wish them all the luck.”
Van Wie said Southern Airways is allowed to offer the flights at PDK because it is classified as a “public charter” operator rather than a regular passenger airline. The main difference is smaller planes and different regulations for booking and other procedures.
PDK already has several private charter operators that essentially rent aircraft to a single customer at a time. Southern Airways, by contrast, will sell seats on scheduled flights at its website.
Cobb County spokesman Robert Quigley said another company tried scheduled flights from Cobb County Airport at McCollum Field to Destin, Fla., about a decade ago.
“The service stopped because the operator found a more profitable contract for the aircraft,” said Quigley.
But other public charter services have found recent popularity among travelers in other parts of the country recently, such as Ultimate Air, Fly Manistee and Lakeshore Express in the midwest.
From PDK, Southern Airways will have nonstops to Birmingham, Ala.; Destin and Panama City, Fla.; and Memphis. One-stop connections will be available to New Orleans and Oxford, Miss.
If the carrier is successful, the CEO said it may look to expand to other metro airports, perhaps McCollum Field.
“We have not been asked to entertain any proposals for scheduled charter service,” Quigley said. “Whether the area is ready or not is up to the investor of the service and their market analysis.”
Managers at other metro Atlanta general aviation airports — there are nearly a dozen locally — did not express much interest in scheduled flights.
Efforts to expand passenger flights beyond Hartsfield-Jackson have met stiff opposition.
After a two-year battle last year, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners unanimously rejected a proposal to bring commercial passenger flights in full-size airliners to Lawrenceville’s Briscoe Field.
“A full bore airline is going to be very, very difficult to survive in the Atlanta metro area outside of Hartsfield International,” said Doug Barrett, manager at Fulton County Airport at Charlie Brown Field. He said his airport has not been approached of late about the idea.
Southern Airways Express plans nonstop flights from PDK to:
and one-stop flights to: