Southern starting Chattanooga-Memphis nonstops

Southern starting Chattanooga-Memphis nonstops

Destin, Fla., flights could begin in spring

September 5th, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

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Southern Airways Express

Southern Airways Express

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Citing pent-up demand, commuter airline Southern Airways Express will start daily nonstops between Chattanooga and Memphis next month, and the carrier is looking at flights from the Scenic City to Destin, Fla., by next spring.

The Memphis service, to begin Oct. 1, will offer Monday-through- Thursday nonstop flights between the metro areas. Delta Air Lines stopped direct commercial passenger service from Chattanooga to Memphis about three years ago.

Southern Airways Chief Executive Stan Little said there are likely a half-dozen businesses in the Chattanooga area which he thinks will be interested in the service.

"We've gotten great responses from people from Chattanooga," he said about the Memphis-based airline.

Southern Airways will fly nine-seat turboprop aircraft and use Chattanooga Airport's Wilson Air corporate aviation center rather than the commercial passenger terminal, Little said.

He said passengers won't have to go through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, can arrive as little as 20 minutes before their flight, and there are no parking or baggage fees.

In the Memphis area, the airline will use Olive Branch Airport in Mississippi just across the state line, rather than Memphis International Airport.

Little said the company's business model is to often use smaller airports and private terminals.

"It's all about convenience," he said.

One-way fares to Memphis will start at $198 and not exceed $298, the airline CEO said.

Chattanooga Airport spokesman Albert Waterhouse said there's a "tremendous business synergy" between Chattanooga and Memphis.

He said airport officials like to see added opportunities for its customers even though the new flights aren't typical commercial passenger service.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee spokeswoman Mary Danielson said the Chattanooga-based health insurer has key operations in Memphis, where it employs about 200 people.

"The more air travel options available to area businesses, the easier it is to connect with the rest of the state and world and get business done," she said.

BlueCross, along with the Memphis-based First Tennessee Bank, were among the companies affected when Delta stopped making the nonstops.

The flights were halted after Northwest Airlines merged with Delta which downgraded the Memphis hub and put added service into Detroit.

Little said that if the Memphis to Chattanooga flights are well received, the airline is eyeing nonstops from Lovell Field to Destin, Fla., next spring.

"Our intention is to connect with our Destin hub as well," he said.

Southern Airways also is starting Knoxville-to-Memphis service, Little said. He said the airline, which started in mid-2013, has Jackson, Miss., Destin and Atlanta service throughout the year.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.