October 4, 2012

Athens, Georgia Wins Flights to Nashville Courtesy of Uncle Sam

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A particularly dirty SeaPort Airlines Pilatus (N933SP) takes off from Boeing Field. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Unlike the oil-rich boom town of Dickinson, North Dakota,, the city of Athens, Georgia, really does need some government help when it comes to attracting airline service.

And so the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service (EAS) program has awarded a $1.5 million annual contract to Oregon-based SeaPort Airlines to fly between Athens and Nashville. The service will fly twice-daily on weekdays and once on weekends, aboard nine-seat Cessna Caravans.

Athens already has EAS-sponsored service — to Atlanta — but the airline that operates it now, Georgia Skies, did not bid for another year.

Thanks to New EAS rules that require an average of 10 passengers daily to maintain funding, SeaPort faces an uphill climb if it wants to operate the route for the long haul. The current Athens-Atlanta service averages a mere 4.8 passengers. While Nashville offers service from Southwest, Delta, American, US Airways and United, the connection opportunities in Atlanta are far more numerous and include overseas destinations.

The $1.5 million question: If ATL can’t coax 10 Athenians to fly, then how will BNA?

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  • Living in Athens I have never considered flying to Atlanta. It’s too easy to drive there. However, I have always wanted to be able to fly to Nashville. I go to Nashville just about as often as I go to Atlanta, but it’s obviously a much longer drive. I think SeaPort has a pretty good chance of getting their 10 passengers a day. The flights have only been offered for about a month and I’ve already heard a number of people talking about it. I know one who has already taken a flight and will take more. I’ll take my first flight next week and it won’t be my last.