‘It’s quite refreshing’: Southern Airways Express delivering what it promised during first week in Quincy

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QUINCY — Chuck Miller, director of Quincy Regional Airport, says Southern Airways Express will offer an experience for passengers that’s completely different from what they’ve come to expect in the past six months.

“Well, they have airplanes available,” he said. “They have pilots. And so far, they have flown the exact schedule that they have published.”

Miller said that with a grin on his face, but the numbers validate his statement.

Southern Airways Express of Palm Beach, Fla., began providing essential air service at Quincy Regional Airport on Dec. 1. Starting Jan. 10, it will offer 18 weekly roundtrip flights, utilizing single-engine nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan planes with two pilots, to both Lambert International Airport in St. Louis and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. 

Southern had 24 flights scheduled out of Quincy to either Chicago or St. Louis in its first six days, and each flight was completed.

Cape Air of Hyannis, Mass., which agreed to a four-year, $10.8 million contract in September to be Quincy’s EAS provider, notified the U.S. Department of Transportation in May of its intent to end passenger air service in Quincy. Cape Air, which utilized twin-engine planes, gave notice in May of its intention to end passenger service in Quincy because of a shortage of pilots.

In its last month of operation in Quincy, Cape Air flew a total of 24 flights.

“It’s quite refreshing,” Miller said of the increase in the number of completed flights.

City and state officials welcomed representatives from Southern Airways Express during a Wednesday afternoon gathering at the airport. Mark Cestari, chief commercial officer, gave a 15-minute presentation on the service Southern will provide Quincy and how the airline has grown to become the largest commuter airline in the country with service in 52 cities and more than 600 employees.

“We were a $4 million company in 2013. We’ll be a $100 million company in 2023,” he said.

Quincy is one of 11 cities that Southern has added in the past year. Many of those cities, Cestari said, were concerned with the same problems Quincy faced earlier this year.

“All you’re hearing right now is pilot shortage, pilot shortage, pilot shortage,” he said.

Southern Airways Express has more than 300 pilots. It signs its pilots to two-year contracts. 

“We are constantly replacing pilots rather than trying to hold on to them forever,” Cestari said.  “We basically ask our pilots to stay with us for 24 months, do a great job, train their replacement, and after 24 months, the replacements fly the plane for them. We’ve had very few issues with crews, because we’re not trying to keep the young pilots forever. We want them to do a great job when they’re working for Southern, and we want them to go fly the big jets, which they’re going to do whether we try to keep them or not.”

Cestari said the airline’s goal is to complete 99.3 percent of its flights, which it has accomplished for the past two years. He also said Southern has a company-wide commitment in its essential air service markets to keep fares at $99 or less. He said the average fare for a one-way flight from Quincy to Chicago or St. Louis is $63.

“We find if you put the prices up too much higher, a family of four is going to drive,” he said. “If you keep the prices low, they might fly. People park (in Quincy) for free here, and they love it. That’s part of our benefit for the customer. The aircraft that we’re flying have much better cargo capacity than the previous operator. Most of the travelers are leisure travelers. You don’t see that many briefcases anymore. They’re all big bags. The ability to carry those bags is another benefit for fliers.”

Mecki Kosin, owner of the Travel House of Quincy, told the Quincy City Council at its Aug. 9 meeting that her clients had no faith in the reliability of the airport. 

Her faith has been restored now that Southern Airways Express is in place at the airport. 

“I love it. I love it,” she said. “When (Cestari) told me that they have taken over several routes from Cape Air and Boutique Air in the last few years, I was done with Boutique. Why would we want to go to an airline that we’re going to have to replace again?

“We need air service. We can’t lose it. People gave me flak over making the presentation to the City Council (supporting Southern). They said, ‘You’ve forever damned us to have one-propeller airplanes in Quincy.’ I said it was either one-propeller planes or tear up the concrete and plant beans.”

Cestari said the best way to get tickets is by visiting iflysouthern.com. He also said the airline is looking to hire full-time and part-time employees in Quincy.

Southern Airways Express Flights out of Quincy through Jan. 9

  • 6:05 a.m. daily to O’Hare
  • 10:55 a.m. daily to Lambert
  • 2:20 p.m. daily to Lambert
  • 5:05 p.m. daily to O’Hare

Southern Airways Express Flights out of Quincy beginning Jan. 10

To O’Hare in ChicagoTo Lambert in St. Louis
5:45 a.m. Sunday11:30 a.m. Sunday
3 p.m. Sunday2:20 p.m. Sunday
5:05 p.m. Sunday9:15 a.m. Monday
5:45 a.m. Monday11:30 a.m. Monday
3 p.m. Monday2:20 p.m. Monday
5:05 p.m. Monday9:15 a.m. Tuesday
5:45 a.m. Tuesday11:30 a.m. Tuesday
3 p.m. Tuesday2:20 p.m. Tuesday
5:45 a.m. Wednesday9:15 a.m. Wednesday
3 p.m. Wednesday11:30 a.m. Wednesday
5:45 a.m. Thursday2:20 p.m. Wednesday
3 p.m. Thursday9:15 a.m. Thursday
5:05 p.m. Thursday11:30 a.m. Thursday
5:45 a.m. Friday2:20 p.m. Thursday
3 p.m. Friday9:15 a.m. Friday
5:05 p.m. Friday11:30 a.m. Friday
5:45 a.m. Saturday2:20 p.m. Friday
3 p.m. Saturday9:15 a.m. Saturday

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