Southern Airways’ recent decision to begin offering scheduled charter flights out of DeKalb Peachtree Airport surprised a lot of people, including Airport Director Mike Van Wie.
“Twenty days ago I would have bet this couldn’t happen here,” Van Wie said.
DeKalb Peachtree Airport, known as PDK, is available for use by commuter planes and small, on-demand charter flights – not commercial airlines.
But Van Wie said Southern Airways is able to operate out of PDK under an obscure Federal Aviation Administration definition for public charters. Essentially, he said, a company called Southern Airways Express handles marketing, scheduling and financial transactions. That company then contracts with its subsidiary, Southern Airways Charter, to offer the flights.
Van Wie said he was surprised by the company’s proposal. After more than 30 years in the airport business, he had never heard of a scheduled charter operation before.
“I can’t believe somebody researched the rules that well to figure out how to do this. But I guess there’s a businessman for everything,” Van Wie said.
Beginning Sept. 9, Southern Airways will offer flights out of PDK to six cities, including Destin, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Oxford, Miss.
Stan Little, chairman and CEO of Southern Airways Corporation said all of the company’s planes have nine seats.
“We are able to do it because the FAA and Department of Transportation allow exceptions for carriers that operate aircraft of nine passengers or less,” Little said. “We therefore do not fall under same rules the commercial airlines do. It’s a new model, and there’s not really anyone other than Southern Airways in our region anyway… that is doing anything like this.”
Little said by utilizing small airplanes and airports, Southern Airways is able to offer a quicker, more convenient option for travelers.
“Our goal is to allow passengers to have door-to-door service to any of our cities in under three hours,” Little said. “That’s something that’s just not even possible when you’re going through international or hub airports.”
He said the flights are geared at leisure and business travelers on a tight schedule.
“I tell people a lot that we don’t want to compete head-to-head with other carriers. We want to compete in markets that are driving markets, that are inconvenient driving markets,” Little said. “The response out of Atlanta has been overwhelmingly positive.”
However, some nearby neighbors were concerned by the prospect of scheduled flights out of PDK.
Brookhaven City Councilman Jim Eyre, who represents the neighborhoods adjacent to the airport, said he got a few calls from constituents immediately after Southern Airways’ announcement. But Eyre said he doesn’t think there’s any major opposition to the company.
“Once we gave them the full story it’s seemed to go away,” Eyre said. “It doesn’t sound like it’s gotten legs in the neighborhood.”
Little said nearby residents should not be affected by Southern Airways’ flights.
“We’ve tried to make it clear from very beginning that if media didn’t cover this story, no one in those neighborhoods would ever know the difference ,” Little said.
Little said there are an average of 500 flights a day out of PDK; Southern will offer only about five flights a day.
“This is not going to have any effect on quality of life in surrounding areas,” Little said. “It truly won’t be detectable in quality of life issues.”
Van Wie said there is a long history of concern about the airport from nearby neighborhoods.
“The idea of scheduled service out of this airport has always been a very contentious thing with the neighborhoods around here,” Van Wie said. “People say, ‘Why did you approve it?’ I didn’t approve it. I didn’t have a legal basis to say no.”
But not all of the calls Van Wie has been receiving are negative. Van Wie said many people have called him asking for the company’s web address.
“I think people want to know how they can get to Destin,” Van Wie said.