The Airbus A380 has definitely had quite the rollercoaster ride during the pandemic, with bad times ranging from early retirements…
Interview: Southern Airways Express Announces New Interline
Pompano Beach, Florida-based Southern Airways Express is one of the largest commuter airlines in the United States and operates over 30 aircraft all over the country, from Nantucket in Massachusetts to the Hawaiian Islands. And many of their destinations include Essential Air Service (EAS) cities.
The carrier, which is also comprised of Hawaii-based Mokulele, operates 200 daily departures on aircraft ranging from Piper PA-31 Navajos to Cessna 208s.
This update has a lot to cover and has news of the airline from basically all corners of the country.
AirlineGeeks had the opportunity to speak with Stan Little, the Chairman, CEO, and founder of the of the carrier and ask him some questions about each of the exciting changes coming to the airline.
What is perhaps the biggest piece of news is that Southern Airways Express is introducing a new interline partner, United Airlines, who will join the likes of American Airlines and Alaska Airlines.
This was just released by the airline only Thursday, so we will be getting a first look at just how it will work.
AirlineGeeks (AG): What type of partnership will this be with United?
Stan Little (SL): It will be an interline ticket and baggage, with through check-in
(AG): Can United MileagePlus members earn miles on Southern Airways Express, flights?
(AG): Will the agreement be for just your new destinations or will it include currently operating ones?
(SL): Everywhere where we share common airports, including HNL (Honolulu), OGG (Kahului), and KOA (Kona) in Hawaii.
(AG): You and United share a few airports as hubs. How will this affect your passengers at your hubs?
(SL): We will have great connectivity at Dulles, as well as our existing hubs at LAX, HNL (Honolulu), OGG (Kahului), and our newest hub in Denver
(AG): How will this effect your current codeshare/interline agreements?
(SL): We anticipate no effect. American is out biggest interline partner and has been for many years. DFW is one of our largest hubs for interline ticketing, and AA (American Airlines) is by far our most significant partner in Pittsburgh. We look forward to continuing that relationship.
(AG): Can passengers ticket to their final destination from an SAE destination?
(SL): Absolutely, those tickets will be able to be purchased on iFlySouthern.com or on United.com. We have a full bilateral agreement with United, American, and Alaska, unlike most commuter carriers which cannot ticket worldwide itineraries from their own websites.
(AG): When will this partnership go into effect?
(SL): It has been excecated and is in the tech/testing stage now. We anticipate implementation within the next 30 days.
New Aircraft Coming to Molokai and Lanai
At the end of May 2021, Hawaiian Airlines announced it would be terminating its ‘Ohana By Hawaiian’ service. This meant there would be a considerable hole in the passenger network in the state of Hawaii specifically on the islands of Molokai and Lanai, but Southern Airways Express is stepping in to pick up the slack. The Cessna 208 only features 8 or 9 seats, which is much smaller than the 42-seat ATR that Hawaiian used, so the answer was to purchase a new aircraft type.
The carrier will be bringing on the Beech-1900D aircraft, and will be the largest aircraft they operate.
(AG): Is the B1900 new to the fleet or has SAE operated it before?
(SL): It is new to our fleet, though many leading members of our Ops team in Florida have vast experience with them from their days at GulfStream Airlines, where the B1900 was their primary aircraft type.
(AG): Where will SAE be acquiring the aircraft from?
(SL): They are coming from one of our lessors.
(AG): How many B1900’s will SAE have in their fleet, and do you plan on increasing it in the future?
(SL): We will have only two, and we don’t plan on this growing in the future. We are dedicated to providing this service to the people of Molokai and Lanai on a limited basis. The (Cessna 208) Caravan will continue to be the workhorse of our fleet.
(AG): Will the B1900’s be in the SAE livery, or the Mokulele livery?
(SL): They will be in the Southern livery, the first time this livery has been introduced to Hawaii. We’re doing this to differentiate the 1900’s from our primary Caravan service
(AG): How many seats will they feature?
(SL): We will fly it with 18-seats, omitting the middle seat in the back row for passenger comfort.
(AG): Will you fly them only in Hawaii, or will it be featured on some of your routes on the mainland?
(SL): These aircraft will be solely dedicated to Molokai and Lanai, along with on-demand charters such as high school sports teams and other civic groups.
(AG): When will this aircraft be introduced to the fleet and begin flights?
(SL): We expect to have the first one on the certificate by early fall, with passenger flights beginning 30-45 days later.
(AG): The B1900 has more than twice the capacity of the Cessna 208, will you bid for future EAS contracts with this aircraft?
(SL): No. The past has proven that airlines can no longer be built on 19 or even 34-seat aircraft. We understand that there’s a reason why these planes are no longer being widely flown. We are only adding two of them to our 35-aircraft fleet for a very specific and limited reason.
Shifting the Hub
We’re back to the other side of the country for the next update, where the airline is moving an entire hub to a different airport. Currently, they operate flights from four EAS airports in the northeast to their Baltimore-Washington hub. These cities include Lancaster, DuBois, and Bradford, all of which are in Pennsylvania, and Morgantown, W.V..
But, come end of June, Southern Air Express will be picking up shop and moving to Washington-Dulles, a major hub for United Airlines.
(AG): Why pick up and move your entire hub to a different airport?
(SL): As we began looking for better ways to provide better connectivity to our passengers in the mid-Atlantic, the first idea that came to mind was connecting to a true hub operation. Pittsburgh provides numerous flights to several cities, primarily in the Eastern U.S., but Dulles connects to the world.
(AG): Will the switch from Baltimore-Washington Dulles be gradual or overnight?
(SL): Overnight. The last flight out of BWI (Baltimore-Washington) will be at 10:00pm on June 27th and the first flight into Dulles will be at 8am on June 28th.
(AG): How will this affect flight times and the cost of tickets from the EAS cities connected to Washington D.C.?
(SL): Fares will remain substantially the same as they have been to BWI. The flight times will be aligned with United’s banks. This generally means earlier departures and later returns to the (EAS) hometowns in order to facilitate same-day trips when desired.
(AG): What terminal will you fly to in Dulles?
(SL): Since we have four aircraft landing and roughly the same time, three times a day, we’ll be parking at a remote stand and providing a shuttle to and from the ‘H Gates’. This will be especially convenient to out “local” traffic, as it is close to the ticket counter and ground transportation.
(AG): How will passengers be dealt with if they have already booked flights to BWI after the switch?
(SL): We’re dealing with this on a case-by-case basis, working to accommodate passenger connections when possible or refunding when necessary.
A Cessna Flight Going the Distance
Sticking with news from the Northeast, the carrier will be implementing a new route from one of their EAS cities to a small island: Lancaster, Penn. to Nantucket, Mass.. This route will take almost two hours using one of the carrier’s seven or eight Cessna 208 Caravans that are based in the carriers Mid-Atlantic and New England networks.
(AG): When does the route start and how often will it operate?
(SL): The route will operate on Saturdays from June 5th to October 9th.
(AG): This route is between an EAS city and will connect your Mid-Atlantic and New England networks. Do you plan on starting other flights like this?
(SL): No, most markets can’t support this kind of service. Lancaster is out largest EAS market, and it’s also our primary maintenance base. So creating an aircraft flow into and out of maintenance is an added benefit.
(AG): What made the airline decide to begin this route?
(SL): We needed to flow aircraft to and from a maintenance base, and Lancaster (plus Harrisburg and the not-too-distant Philadelphia suburbs) have considerably more people than most EAS communities.
(AG): Where will you operate out of Nantucket Airport?
(SL): For the past two years, we’ve operated from the main terminal on the commuter side
(AG): LNS is also connected to Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. Do you plan on offering flights from these cities to Nantucket with the LNS connection?
(SL): We don’t inhibit any possible connections in our network, so we’d love to have connecting passengers, though it might not be the most efficient routing to get there. Morgantown to Dulles to Lancaster to Nantucket might not be the most efficient way to connect the two points, but it might very well be the cheapest!
The Deep South
Moving halfway across the country to the deep south, specifically the state of Arkansas, the carrier flies from three EAS communities in the state to both Memphis and Dallas and now plans on operating flights between the small communities. EAS communities in the state that they operate to include Harrison, Hot Springs, an El Dorado
(AG): Why is SAE beginning service between these small cities in Arkansas?
(SL): It’s one of the most regular requests that we get. Lots of people remember the days many years ago when Arkansas had intra-state flights. We also needed to dedicate more of our 18-weekly EAS departures to DFW because demand has been so strong. By consolidating Friday & Sunday Memphis flights over Hot Springs, it allowed us to allocate more DFW capacity.
(AG): When do flights begin?
(SL): They began on June 4th, and operate once a day on Fridays and Sundays.
(AG): Will residents of these small communities get extra discounts to incentivize them to fly rather than drive to neighboring towns?
(SL): Our everyday low fares, easy boarding process, and short flight times are three great incentives not to tackle the Arkansas back-roads!
Not only will this be the carrier’s only intra-Arkansas flights, but they will also be the only airline to offer flights within the state’s borders, as no other carrier currently does so.
Rocky Mountain Route
Now, we head over to the Rocky Mountains for the final piece of news. Southern Airways Express is taking over the EAS contract in Chadron, Nebraska from Boutique Air. The contract details can be viewed on the most recent version of ‘EAS Round Up.’ This will be the carrier’s first time flying to both Denver and Chadron, meaning that they will be opening the newest hub of theirs in this update.
(AG): Is the King Air a new aircraft to the fleet?
(SL): We’ve had these in our fleet before, so we have experience with them. Chadron will be serviced using King Air 200s, four of which are being added to our fleet over the next six months.
(AG): Will the King Air be put into the SAE livery?
(SL): Yes, it will be in Southern livery. All 35 aircraft are currently going through the paint shop to unify the livery across the system (though the Mokulele livery is being kept on the Hawaiian Caravans, of course.)
(AG): How many passenger seats will the aircraft feature?
(SL): Nine, just like our Caravans.
(AG): Where will you be getting the KingAirs from?
(SL): We have secured the KingAirs from existing lessors
(AG): How many KingAirs will you have in total?
(SL): Four KingAir 200s, though only two are dedicated to Chadron. (One goes to Hawaii, one to South Florida)
(AG): Will Chadron be the only nonstop from DEN, or does the airline plan on launching others from this city?
(SL): We are looking for other opportunities from Denver to increase our aircraft utilization there, but no decisions have been made.
(AG): Boutique operated Chadron-Rapid City. Will SAE look into doing this?
(SL): No. We viewed this as an effort to sway local opinion in favor of the incumbent carrier at decision time. CDR to RAP is a 90-minute drive with little traffic, and RAP doesn’t offer a fraction of the connections as DEN. Unless you’re going to fly it with a lot of frequency (5-7x daily) for local traffic only, it really makes little sense.
(AG): Where will you operate out of in Denver?
(SL): The ticket counter will be in Terminal East, near Frontier, and the Gate will be A62, near American and Frontier.
The carrier’s route map is pretty extensive, and they currently operate a comprehensive network of seven different route structures around the country.
The current route map of the carrier (Photo: Southern Airways Express)
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