The U.S. Dept of Transportation has awarded a two-year Essential Air Service subsidy contract for the Chadron-Denver route to Southern Airways.
Chadron City Council approved recommending the airline to the DOT at its Feb. 1 meeting.
Southern Chief Commercial Officer Mark Cestari said the airline would like to start providing service to Chadron as close as possible to the planned June 1 date, but the logistics are still being worked out and they want to make sure they are properly resourced for their opener.
"We usually like to give people a reasonable amount of lead time," Cestari said, but the airline is inside that standard window.
Cestari further noted that the transition to Southern from Boutique, the current service provider at the Chadron airport, will be as smooth as possible. He noted customers who have already booked their flights through Boutique should be notified of the change and the need to re-book through Southern. He said this would not be a problem as there is no change to the flight destination since both fly to the Denver hub.
Southern will provide 12 trips per week to Denver, two on weekdays, and one each on Saturday and Sunday. There will also be special flights on Nebraska Cornhusker home games to bring Chadron folks to and from the games. Cestari said there will likely be same day out and back and overnight trips.
The planes they will use are a nine-passenger twin-engine Beech King Air 200. Cestari said the crafts have the most personal space of any regional airline, and are plenty roomy with big windows.
The cabin measures 16.7 feet long by 4.5 feet wide by 4.8 feet tall giving it a total cabin volume of 303 cubic feet making it comfortable for nine passengers.
Further, the planes have a large cargo capacity, something which the Chadron City council seemed very interested in, Cestari said. Travel nowadays, he added, is more for leisure so people are packing big bags and the cargo pod on the plane is meant to accommodate those.
The baggage compartment can hold up to 7.9 bags assuming the average piece of luggage is less than five cubic feet.
As for fares, Cestari said the Denver trips will average $62 per person. There will be options of: $39 with a two-week advance purchase; $59 for a one-week advance; and $79 for a walk-up price. With nine seats to a plane, there will be three seats available in each of the price options.
As for the special trips for Cornhusker games, the company will work with local leaders to put together a schedule and fares that works.
The amount of the subsidy contract granted by the DOT is $2,737,716 the first year and $2,806,159 the second. Southern is projecting an excess of 6,000 passengers per year, which means at least $456 per passenger the first year, $467 the second.
There will also be a good level of support put toward marketing and community involvement, Cestari said. For instance, flight tickets would be provided as a prize in a silent auction or raffle, for any community group interested in having them.
Cestari looks forward to regularly visiting and being a part of the Chadron community. For an airline that flies to Boston in the east and Honolulu in the west, he said, this is their first Rocky Mountain area hub.
Those interested in obtaining tickets for fundraisers can call (800) 329-0485.