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Flights to Washington, D.C., on the horizon

Mayor Robert Reichert walks down the steps of a Silver Airways plane at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in this 2013 file photo. A new company — Contour Airlines — is on track to offer flights from Macon to Washington, D.C. starting late this spring.
Mayor Robert Reichert walks down the steps of a Silver Airways plane at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in this 2013 file photo. A new company — Contour Airlines — is on track to offer flights from Macon to Washington, D.C. starting late this spring. wmarshall@macon.com

Flights from Macon to Washington, D.C., are on track to start by mid-June.

Contour Aviation representatives and Middle Georgia Regional Airport officials continue working through the logistics of flights to the nation’s capital. The new airline service operating out of the regional airport became official in January when the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $4.7 million annual subsidy over a two-year period.

The first takeoff is targeted between late May and mid-June, Macon-Bibb officials said.

People will be able to book flights once the logistics are completed. The new service is through Contour Airlines, which formed in 2015 for scheduled service flights.

“We’re waiting on Contour to finalize the details of which aircraft they will be using, so they will know how fast the plane can be outfitted (turned around) for operation,” airport manager Erick D'Leon said in an email. “Then we can begin finalizing details like security, ground handling, lease space, etc.”

In the last several months, Contour has ramped up efforts to launch the service.

“Aside from personnel issues, it’s the smaller items like working through lease agreements with both airports,” CEO Matt Chaifetz said after the January subsidy was approved.

Washington, D.C., was chosen due to the presence of Robins Air Fore Base and because it’s the second most popular flight destination in Middle Georgia behind New York City. The introductory price for flights between Middle Georgia Regional Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport will be as low as $49 each way. The standard fare will eventually be $89 one way.

Contour already offers flights between Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, as well as from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. In Macon, the company would fill the void left by the departure of Silver Airways in November 2014. It operated just nine months at the airport.

Before Silver, another company, Georgia Skies, had a high number of cancellations and delays, and in 2012 the company had fewer than 500 passengers. The airport took another hit in 2008 when a Delta Air Lines subsidiary halted operations.

But Macon-Bibb officials as well as Contour have said they are optimistic about their new partnership. Contour is a certified air carrier by the Department of Defense, meaning that it can transport defense personnel and cargo. Macon-Bibb is also raising the level of marketing for the service.

Airport developments

Airport and government officials are still preparing for a potential runway extension that could have a twofold effect, including bringing more jobs to Middle Georgia.

The expansion would allow larger planes to fly into the airport, thus increasing the possibility for more airline service. Lengthening the runway could also bring more business to aircraft maintenance companies operating out of the regional airport.

A justification study with the state Department of Transportation is being completed before it’s submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, D’Leon said.

“It’s taking longer than we hoped, but it is moving steadily along,” he said. “Thanks to our diligence in getting the information, the impact the airport has on the region, the potential for growth with the extension, and the support of our state and federal legislators, the process is moving forward, and for that we are excited.”

The estimated cost of the airport extension ranges from $15 million to $25 million. The county could also use a portion of a $29 million economic development pot to cover a match for the extension. That money would come from the $280 million sales tax initiative that voters approved in 2016.

“A lot of the money could come from the state and federal government,” Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said. “What we have in the SPLOST is the estimated match.”

A tunnel would also need to be built over Avondale Mill Road as part of the runway extension.

The airport is expected to also benefit from a major transportation project — the ongoing Sardis Church Road extension — that will improve access to the facility as well as Robins Air Force Base.

Construction on that $55 million project is expected to be completed in 2019.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph

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