No airlines submitted acceptable bids by Thursday’s deadline to provide passenger flights at Middle Georgia Regional Airport.
But the deadline for offers on that subsidized service has been extended to Feb. 26, while Airport Manager Doug Faour touts Middle Georgia to larger carriers.
This is the second bid extension since Silver Airways stopped its Atlanta and Orlando flights on Nov. 5. Macon-Bibb County asked for and received an extension from the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Chris Floore, Macon-Bibb government spokesman.
“Since we don’t have air service ... at the moment, there’s not a big rush to get one just to have one,” he said.
Middle Georgia Regional is one of many smaller airports that qualifies for subsidized flights to Atlanta under the Essential Air Service program. In 2014 the U.S. Department of Transportation warned Macon and 11 other airports that they might lose the funding, but on Sept. 26 gave them all a one-year reprieve.
Silver Airways provided passenger flights to Atlanta and Orlando from April 2013 until last fall, getting a $2 million annual subsidy from the federal Essential Air Service program. After an initial surge of business, Silver began canceling many flights. Failing to reach the 10 passengers-per-day average needed to guarantee the subsidy would continue, Silver announced it would stop local service by Nov. 5, 2014. The U.S. DOT opened the service for bids again. The initial deadline was Nov. 24, but Macon-Bibb got an extension until Thursday.
“I’m not aware of bids that may have been submitted to the DOT nor bids that may have planned to be submitted,” Faour said. He said airlines may be interested, but they need to have fairly large planes, he said.
Floore said a carrier that used a nine-passenger plane would find it almost impossible to reach the required passenger numbers.
“Otherwise, they’re (a small airline) going away in a year or two,” he said.
Silver used a 34-seat Saab. In the year prior to June 1, 2014, the airport handled about half the minimum number of passengers needed, according to the U.S. DOT.
When Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta Air Lines subsidiary, flew from Middle Georgia Regional Airport, more than three times the minimum necessary number of fliers passed through there. But the Delta affiliate left in 2008, and passenger numbers plummeted under the smaller carriers that followed.
The key is finding an airline that will make enough local investment and commitment to offer a really viable service, Faour said.
“If we wanted to have an airline here for the sake of having an airline, we could have one,” he said.
Floore has said Macon-Bibb officials want to see a destination offered besides Atlanta, figuring that will drive up passenger numbers. The top five destinations for Middle Georgia airline passengers are New York City; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; south Florida and Las Vegas, Faour said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.