CLEARFIELD – The Southern Airways Express flight services will take off at the DuBois Regional Airport Nov. 30, announced R. Keith Sisson, co-founder and chief marketing officer, Southern Airways Corp., at Tuesday’s Clearfield County Commissioners’ meeting.
Southern Airways will fly Cessna 208 Caravans, which are nine-seated planes. Flights from DuBois will connect leisure and business travelers to the Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall airports, Sisson said.
He said that three flights will depart daily to both Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington on Monday through Friday. The flight schedule will be cut in half on weekends with there being one flight to each hub on Saturdays and two flights to each hub on Sundays.
“We are bringing back Pittsburgh,” Sisson said. “We’ve been hearing it like the steady beating of a drum since we began working with the airport commission and the community. Everybody wanted Pittsburgh.
He added, “We still wanted to keep the East Coast connectivity and instead of Washington/Dulles … we felt Baltimore-Washington would be the perfect fit for this community.
“We’re still going to serve Washington/Dulles from other communities, but we just felt Baltimore-Washington and Pittsburgh were a great combination.” Sisson said Southern Airways officials compared airfare averages and domestic connections and Baltimore-Washington won out.
Southern Airways officials postponed offering its air service until Nov. 30, so that the change in carrier/hub would not affect anyone traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday. Tickets are currently on sale and advance airfare will be as low as $29 and will max out around $119.
Sisson said Southern Airways has four primary beliefs, which are: frequently providing double-digit, low-cost airfare, being visible and involved in the communities it serves and providing both frequent and reliable air service.
“We’ve had [an on-time rate] of over 97.5 percent since February,” he said. When we say planes will show up, they show up … once people believe when they buy a ticket the plane will be there, they will start buying tickets.”
One plane will overnight at the airport, he said, so that travelers will be able to get early flights to catch others in the connection cities. Additionally, there will be flights available for travelers who are returning in the evenings.
Sisson said the airport will need 20 passengers daily, but it shouldn’t be a hard goal to hit based on past statistics. “We will always take grandma to see her grandkids and people on their once-a-year vacation; it’s great for business and we want that.
“But for sustainability in the community, we need those business people carrying briefcases two to three times a month. That’s where our success will lie.”
He also said having an airport with flight connections in Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington will make the Clearfield region attractive to business and company executives who are looking for relocation and expansion opportunities.
If the airport would have 10,000 annual passengers, it would receive $1 million and it could be used for infrastructure, such as runway improvements, lighting and hanger space, Sisson said.
The DuBois Regional Airport has been in operation since 1960, according to Bob Shaffer, airport manager. Its service was originally provided by Alleghany Airlines before morphing into the Mesa Air Group, then Gulfstream Airlines and currently to Silver Airways.
Southern Airways’ flights will be under the Essential Air Service, a government program to guarantee that rural communities in the United States have commercial air service, which includes DuBois, he explained.
“We are looking forward to working with Southern Airways on its endeavors,” Shaffer said, adding, “It has a unique and interesting way of providing service. It’s a whole new way of thinking.”
Southern Airways was founded in 2013, Sisson said, and it expanded when it took over for Sun Air Express earlier this year.
According to him, it has operated in six cities and all three have renewed their contracts. Southern Airways has also added three communities with DuBois being one of them.
“If you have to make a connection in one of those hub cities – Pittsburgh or Baltimore-Washington – then why drive when you can fly out of your hometown airport,” Sisson said.