Here we go again. We are going to lose passenger air service into Macon. Since ASA left a few years ago, service has gone down hill until Silver Airways took over. It has had the most sophisticated operation and the nicest planes. But its schedule has been a problem.
When the airline first arrived in Macon, it took over from the previous airline. I flew with them right after they got started. My first flight was May 19, 2013. The flight left at 6:20 p.m., from Macon to Atlanta. To get back, I had to be on the ground in Atlanta by 8:30 a.m., at the latest, to catch the 9 a.m. flight to Macon. It became impossible with my schedule.
Over time, the schedule changed. Presently, flights leave Macon at 11:45 a.m. for Atlanta, arriving about 12:30 p.m. The return flight is 5:01 p.m. arriving in Macon by 5:44 p.m. The flight time is only about 15 minutes, but there is a lot of ground time involved. Were I to go to Orlando instead, the flight would be a 6:20 p.m. departure. To get back, I would have to make a 9:40 a.m. flight from Orlando, getting into Macon before noon.
Silver Airways changing the departure time from Macon to Atlanta before lunch was more convenient than leaving at the end of the day. I could hop a flight from Atlanta to Washington, be on the ground by 3 p.m., have a 4 p.m. meeting, then do my radio show. There were just a few problems.
First, I gave up on Silver Airways early on because of the original schedule. It was this year before I even knew their schedule had changed. While the new schedule is better, my particular work schedule made the flight back to Macon impossible to catch. But it still took a year to find out about the change. Advertising flights out of Macon was nonexistent after the initial push. Neither the airline nor the local airport did much of anything to promote it.
Second, like with the end of ASA, the Silver Airways flights became less and less reliable. Back when ASA was winding down, I was a frequent user of the service and found myself boarding a bus to Atlanta minutes before the scheduled flight departure time. For business travelers, the unreliability of a flight with only one daily flight is a deal breaker.
I still believe the Middle Georgia region can sustain regular commercial flights. When I was chairman of the Public Properties Committee on the Macon City Council, my committee saw several studies that confirm there are enough people in the area who regularly travel to sustain commercial aviation. To do so, however, requires a sustained marketing push throughout the area and buy-in from local communities from Dublin to Perry to Forsyth. That appears unlikely.
It also requires an airline with better scheduling than what has been available and more routes than just Atlanta. The Delta hub in Atlanta is worth tying into, but cannot be the only option. Silver going to Orlando has been the best bet in a very long time, but if a plane flies to Orlando and nobody knows, does it really go there?
At this point, Macon should ditch efforts for a commercial airline and focus on cargo and maintenance. The Middle Georgia Regional Airport sustains hundreds of jobs and could create hundreds more. The runway needs expansion. County leaders should make that commitment. Our economic future needs that runway expansion more than a passenger airline service.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.