Southern Airways to operate out of main terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson

Commuter carrier Southern Airways Express is striking a lease with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to operate its flights to Jackson, Tennessee.

Palm Beach, Florida-based Southern Airways, which operates nine-seat Cessna Grand Caravans and other small aircraft, was selected to operate federally subsidized flights under the federal Essential Air Service program to preserve airline service to Jackson. The city of about 68,000 is about 90 miles northeast of Memphis and 130 miles southwest of Nashville.

Southern Airways launched the Jackson-Atlanta route in June. Since the launch, Southern Airways has been operating out of private aviation terminal Signature Flight Support on the north side of the Atlanta airport.

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That’s because the tiny Tennessee airport currently does not have an active Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, but expects to have TSA screening starting Sept. 22, which would allow passengers to fly into the security-screened concourses at Hartsfield-Jackson, said Southern Airways chief of staff Keith Sisson.

Starting Sept. 22, Southern Airways plans to begin using a gate on Concourse E at the Atlanta airport, which will allow passengers to more easily connect to other flights. The carrier has “interline” agreements with American, Alaska and United Airlines that allow passengers to connect to flights on those carriers, Sisson said.

But Southern Airways does not yet have such an agreement with Delta, which operates the majority of flights in Atlanta. “We would love to have an interline with Delta,” Sisson said.

He said the Jackson-Atlanta route can attract both leisure and business travelers, calling Jackson a “growing business market” given its location near a planned Ford electric vehicle manufacturing campus called BlueOval City, which will be located between Jackson and Memphis.

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The U.S. Department of Transportation chose Southern Airways, which operates as an FAA Part 135 commuter carrier, to fly 18 weekly round-trip flights from Jackson to Hartsfield-Jackson using Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft, at a subsidy of roughly $1.6 million a year through May 31, 2024. That amounts to an estimated subsidy of about $198 per passenger.

Before Southern Airways took over the federally subsidized route, it was served by Boutique Air. But last November, the Jackson airport director told the DOT that it wanted a replacement carrier because of “numerous flight delays and cancellations by Boutique Air.”

Southern Airways previously operated flights out of DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, a general aviation airport in Chamblee. It discontinued those flights in 2016.

Now, Hartsfield-Jackson is seeking Atlanta City Council approval for the new lease with Southern Airways.

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Ultimately, Southern Airways hopes to add more service using its small planes to places that don’t currently have airline flights. “There are plenty of cities that are within the flight time [to Atlanta] of our aircraft that right now do not have scheduled air service,” Sisson said, citing Tuscaloosa and Clemson as examples. “There are definitely possibilities out there.”