The Jackson-Madison County Airport Authority has voted to make a recommendation for a new airline to service McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport, and in the process, possibly add a direct flight to Chicago from Jackson.
A special called meeting of the board lasted well over three hours as two airlines pitched their essential air service proposals in person vying for recommendation to the Department of Transportation.
Five airlines originally submitted their proposals to become the airline at McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport, which were narrowed to Air Choice One, and Southern Airways Express.
After hearing proposals and receiving answers to questions from both commuter airlines, the board voted to recommend Southern Airways Express as their selection with a two-year contract.
“Southern Airways Express has 35 aircraft with over 220 daily departures across the country,” said Steve Smith, executive director of the Jackson-Madison County Airport Authority in a press release. “Their on-time performance is No. 1 in the nation at 94.1%, and their controllable completion rate was over 99%.
“Those are two areas we expect an airline to deliver when flying out of McKellar-Sipes, and those facts resonated with the board, as well as the option for a King Air 200 aircraft.”
Stan Little is the chairman and CEP of Southern Airways Express. He’s a University of Tennessee graduate who has work experience with the Tennessee state legislature and lived in West Tennessee for 25 years after founding a business in Humboldt.
“Jackson/McKellar-Sipes will be a success under Southern Airways Express!” Little said in a statement. “You can rest assured that no city in the system will receive a higher priority from my airline.”
Ford’s upcoming Blue Oval City project in neighboring Haywood County also played a factor in the decision, as Southern Airways Express is offering flights to and from Chicago, home to many of the nation’s largest companies. Flights to and from Atlanta would continue as well under this proposal.
AIRLINES:5 airlines trying to become essential service for McKellar-Sipes
BOUTIQUE AIR:Boutique Air no longer welcome at McKellar-Sipes Airport
The official recommendation as well as letters from the Airport Authority, Jackson Mayor Scott Conger, Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris and The Jackson Chamber will be sent to the Department of Transportation where the final decision will be made.
The need for the new contract occurred when the airport authority requested current airline Boutique Air withdraw from the Jackson market and McKellar-Sipes on Nov. 29 after a pattern of canceled and late flights hit a peak the preceding week during the Thanksgiving holiday. This came less than six months after Boutique Air took over the services in the airport.
“We can be confident in saying the new airline will be operational and ready for area travelers by May 1,” Smith said. “Until then, the Department of Transportation will require Boutique Air to provide services as required by their contract.”