A year ago, even six months back, the passenger terminal at Middle Georgia Regional Airport practically sat empty. Only a trickle of commercial fliers used the federally subsidized flights to Atlanta.
But on April 1, Silver Airways took over service and offered not only flights to and from Atlanta, but also Orlando, Fla.
Six months into Silvers two-year contract, life is slowly returning to the airport terminal. Its a long way from being full, but the numbers are clearly up.
On Friday, Samar Othman and his mother Aida Othman, both of Macon, were among a small number of fliers waiting for the evening flight to Orlando. They were off for a few days of leisure, they said.
Though it wasnt an unusual trip for Samar Othman, it was just the second time hed flown from Macon.
Its great, he said. Its a very convenient, comfortable plane ride. Its a lot easier than driving, which Id been doing previously.
Samar Othman thinks he heard about the service from his father, then looked it up online.
The most appealing part about it is its so much cheaper than flying out of Atlanta, he said.
At the April flight start-up, Silver was charging $57 for Atlanta round trips and $139.50 for round trips to Orlando. That introductory price was expected to rise, and it has somewhat. Two-week advance purchase fares on www.silverairways.com are now $66.80 for an Atlanta round trip, including all taxes and fees; and $239.30 for a round trip to Orlando.
Samar Othman found his first flight on Silver pleasant enough that this time, his mother agreed to fly with him.
He talked me into it, Aida Othman said. Even if they had wanted to fly to Orlando before, Macons small terminal easily beats Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where the drive and trek through security to a departure gate can take three hours, she said.
When Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Silver Airways won a $2 million annual federal subsidy to provide passenger flights from Middle Georgia Regional Airport, it promised to use a 34-seat Saab 340B+ turboprop. Thats a larger plane than previous carrier GeorgiaSkies used on its Macon-Atlanta service. Georgia Skies sought for months to get out of its obligation to offer passenger flights from Macon, but federal officials only granted that when Silver agreed to make one round-trip flight per day to Atlanta, Sunday through Friday; and one round-trip to Orlando, Monday through Saturday.
Silver spokesman Steve Bennett said Friday the airline was too busy preparing for the possible effects of Tropical Storm Karen to comment, but Airport Manager Doug Faour said passenger business has spiked since Silvers flights began.
During the first three-month period that Silver flew from Macon, it carried 360 passengers, Faour said. Thats up from 143 in the quarter before Silver arrived, he said.
Since then, passenger numbers have continued a rapid increase. Silver had 524 local passengers between July and September, Faour said.
That includes the first month (September) since 2008 in which an airline flying into Macon has had more than 200 passengers in a single month, Mayor Robert Reichert said.
Were proud and were happy, and I think that Silver Airways is happy to get this kind of response, Reichert said.
The mayor said his goal is to get 10,000 passengers in a year. Thats an average of 833 passengers per month, or 16 passengers per flight -- more than quadrupling the best month so far.
If you get to that threshold, then the FAA significantly ramps up their contribution for local improvements and maintenance. Right now were getting peanuts, but if you get to 10,000 a year, you get more than $1 million, he said.
Samar Othman said his previous flight between Macon and Orlando was already full both ways, but most of those passengers came from or went on to other locations. Only the last four or five seats were filled with Macon passengers, he said.
Is Silvers service good enough for him to make it his regular transportation to Orlando?
Absolutely, Samar Othman said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.