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VOL. 128 | NO. 150 | Friday, August 02, 2013

Southern Airways Adds Four Destinations

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

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Southern Airways Express announced Thursday, Aug. 1, it is adding four nonstop destinations from Memphis, bringing the total to eight.

Shortly after Labor Day, the Memphis-based airline will add Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., and Knoxville, Tenn., to its list of nonstop destinations from Memphis. Southern Airways Express will continue its current routes to Destin and Panama City Beach, Fla., Gulf Shores, Ala., and New Orleans. The airline has hubs in Memphis and Destin.

Stan Little, CEO of Southern Airways Express, celebrates the grand opening of the Memphis-based regional airline with a ribbon cutting at General Dewitt Spain Airport along with the airline crew and city leaders. The airline has been in business two months and serves eight cities in the Southern U.S., with hubs in Memphis and Destin. (Daily News/Jennifer Johnson Backer)

“Demand has been great,” said Southern Airways Express CEO Stan Little at a ribbon cutting ceremony at General Dewitt Spain Airport to celebrate the airline’s grand opening two months after it formally launched. “Many of our flights have been sold out, although I’m not ready to say most just yet – there is still room for growth.”

Little said that many of the airline’s beach flights are sold out on a regular basis.

While Southern Airways Express also flies from Atlanta, Birmingham and Oxford, Miss., to the Gulf Coast, demand has been strongest from Memphis, he said.

Most of the business routes to cities like Knoxville and Atlanta will run Monday through Thursday, while leisure routes to beach cities will operate primarily on the weekends – with some overlap in between, Little explained.

He estimates the airline employs about 50 people, including eight pilots, partners and contractors. Little said he plans to hire two additional pilots with the new routes and will adjust hiring plans with demand.

The airline, which is backed by local investors who have chosen to remain anonymous, will help fill nonstop service gaps left by major carriers, airline officials said. Fares on flights range from $129 to $249 each way.

In Memphis, Southern Airways Express flies out of Olive Branch and Gen. DeWitt Spain airport near Downtown, allowing passengers to arrive 15 minutes before a flight.

The airline’s Cessna 208 Caravans seat nine passengers and a pilot.

Passengers also bypass Transportation Security Administration screening and baggage and parking fees.

The airline’s newest plane addition is a Beechcraft King Air 200 for private charters and backup to keep routes running on time.

Southern Airways Express pilot Paul Hooper says working for the airline has been a welcome change after years of grueling overseas flying in the Air Force and as a special forces pilot. Hooper has worked in government contract programs in far-flung places like Columbia and Afghanistan, and has logged more than 3,000 hours flying Caravans.

“Dealing with the passengers personally has been a surprising extra to this job,” he said. “Everyone is very pleasant and happy … and we fly low enough to the ground that you can see where people live. The kids love it.”

An added bonus, Hooper said, is that he can make it home every night.

“The hassles of (commercial) airlines don’t just apply to passengers,” he explained. “They also apply to pilots. It’s a grueling occupation.”

Southern Airways Express is modeled after Pan American Airways in the late 1960s and 1970s, complete with uniforms that are a nod to the luxury era of flying. Pilots wear blue suede shoes and ladies wear scarves.

“It’s Southern hospitality at its best,” Hooper said.

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