Southern Airways Express is, by my count, the first new domestic U.S. carrier to get into the air this year. It started in April, and seems to be going strong, at least for now. Its primary shtick is convenience: flying mainly from small general aviation airports using nine-passenger Cessna Caravan and Grand Caravan turboprops. That means:
- No TSA hassle—travelers need to arrive at the airport only 20 to 30 minutes before departure.
- Flyers park within a few yards of the terminal, at no charge, for up to 14 days.
- Boarding and disembarking are almost instant.
- And, obviously, there are no middle seats.
Southern's main hubs are two airports in Memphis (Downtown Dewitt Spain and suburban Olive Branch) and Downtown Airport at Destin Florida. Routes with four to 20 weekly flights link those hubs with Atlanta/DeKalb-Peachtree, Birmingham/Shuttlesworth, New Orleans/Lakefront, Oxford Mississippi, Gulf Shores/Jack Edwards, and Panama City/Beaches, plus one or two weekly trips to Knoxville/Downtown Island and Tunica Mississippi, a few miles south of Memphis.
The airline claims fares are "almost always less expensive" than on the larger carriers. For travel between Memphis and New Orleans in early September, the lowest fare I spotted on Southern was $258 round-trip. The lowest fare I found on a major airline was around $350 round-trip, so, at least when I looked, the fare claim seemed correct. All in all, Southern Airways Express sounds like an attractive proposition for the short-haul trips it runs.
Meanwhile the two other leading wannabe startups are still wannabes: PeopleExpress has had nothing to say since its June announcement of its acquisition of XTRA Airways' operating certificate. If it ever does get going, my guess is it will operate on a primary hub somewhere other than Newport News, which seems like a counter-intuitive place to base an airline. And California Pacific has no more progress to report on its attempt to start a regional airline operating out of Palomar Airport in northern San Diego County.
As soon as we have any news, we'll post it.
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