Tourist Spot

Southern Airways Express to offer intra-state flights from SARA to Hot Springs, Harrison


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Starting June 1, air travelers departing from the South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field will have the opportunity to connect to the state’s three Essential Air Service cities.

Southern Airways Express, the region’s EAS commercial carrier, announced this week the addition of an intra-state route to its scheduled air service that connects El Dorado directly to Hot Springs and Harrison, the other two EAS communities in the Arkansas.

Southern Airways has served all three communities since 2017.

“Having three non-stop picks from El Dorado is a real boon to the community and reflects the great leadership of the South Arkansas Regional Airport,” said Stan Little, Chairman of the Board and CEO by Southern Airways.

The airline offered the new regional weekend flights as part of its business case to renew its EAS contracts with the U.S. Department of Transportation and continue to serve all three Arkansas cities.

The current two-year contracts expire at the end of May.

Last September, members of the El Dorado Airport Commission and Johnathan Estes, director of the South Arkansas Regional Airport (SARA), reviewed applications from five airlines, including Southern Airways, who were vying for the 2021-2023 government-subsidized contract.

Airport commissioners also heard presentations from two of the airlines, including Southern Airways, which submitted bids.

While speaking to the group, Little said the airline is looking to boost air travel in the state with a “Connect Arkansas” marketing campaign.

In addition to scheduled flights to Dallas-Fort Worth and Memphis international airports, Little said Southern Airways would add round-trip travel, in which passengers could take weekend flights between El Dorado, Hot Springs and Harrison without stopovers or stopovers in Dallas or Memphis. .

Intra-state travel is a risky service that is offered by Southern Express and is not included in the government subsidy.

After lengthy discussions, the airport commissioners agreed to continue with Southern Airways for another two years and chose a bid option that would modify the existing contract.

Under the terms of the agreement with the USDOT, Southern Express is required to offer 18 return flights per week for its El Dorado routes.

Twelve of these flights go west to Dallas-Fort Worth and six east to Memphis.

Under the new contract, which takes effect June 1, airport commissioners opted for a bid option that would reduce the number of flights to Memphis from six to four and increase the DFW route by two round trips. per week.

The Commissioners and Estes said the DFW section is used more often than the Memphis route and is generating more interest among commercial air travelers who fly outside SARA.

“We believe connecting the state of Arkansas for the first time in many years is a winning strategy,” said Little.

A plus for those traveling to Harrison, he said, is that the northern Arkansas city is centered in the Ozark Mountains, sits along the Buffalo River, and only a 20-minute drive from Branson. , Missouri, a popular tourist destination.

Hot Springs is also a prime spot for an extended vacation or weekend getaway in Arkansas and has many attractions, including the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

Estes made similar statements, adding that the new flight schedule will also allow people from Hot Springs and Harrison to attend events in El Dorado, including festivals and concerts.

“I think the flights from Hot Springs, Harrison, and El Dorado line up pretty well if people want to go horse racing in Hot Springs or the casino or Harrison,” he said. “For people who want to go (to events in the Murphy’s Arts District) to El Dorado, they can arrive at 5 pm (pm) to see a performance.”

He said car rental services are also available at SARA and are a handy tool that can be used by visitors to get to local destinations.

Conversely, the flight from El Dorado to Hot Springs and Harrison leaves SARA at 11:25 am Friday, with arrivals scheduled in Hot Springs at 12:35 pm and Harrison at 1:40 pm “to take advantage of all the events. attend, ”Estes said.

As part of EAS contract negotiations with Southern Airways in 2020, Estes said he and regional managers at Hot Springs and Harrison airports – Glen Barentine and Judy McCutcheon, respectively – have requested the intra-state route.

“And Stan (Little) said yes,” Estes said. “Other than the flights to LR (Little Rock), I think we (answered) more questions for people trying to get to Hot Springs and get to Harrison.”

“It’s something the public asked for and now we hold the public to it. If Southern doesn’t get the flights, he doesn’t make money, ”he continued. “Hopefully the first intra-state flights will be a success.”

Little said the new service model will also add a Memphis to Hot Springs connection, a link that was already part of the flight schedules for El Dorado and Memphis.

Florida-based Southern Airways, which flies nine-seater Cessna Grand Caravans, hopes to continue increasing passenger numbers to pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) levels.

Overall, the number of boardings for commercial flights at SARA fell in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Estes said at certain times of the year the number was not as low as expected. .

The decrease was more obvious in the other months, however.

For example, in April 2019 there were 245 boardings from SARA to DFW, up from just 28 in the same month last year, according to reports from Southern Airways.

On May 10, Estes told airport commissioners that DFW boardings had climbed to 200 by April of this year.

Southern Airways is launching the new intra-Arkansas route with an introductory fare that starts at $ 59. Standard fares are gradually increasing for the Frugal, Friendly, and Freedom flight packages, which peak at $ 149 for the Freedom flight ticket.

For more information on the new schedule or to book a flight, visit www.iflysouthern.com or call 1-800-329-0485.

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