Contour Airlines nears end of first year in Macon
A year ago marked the return of regular air service from the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, with Contour Airlines providing daily flights between Macon and the Washington, D.C., area.
After the previous two airlines flamed out, there may have been some skepticism about how the latest venture would fare.
But the response has been better than even the most optimistic projections, according to airline and airport officials.
In June, more than 3,000 passengers came through the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, up from 246 at the same time last year. Contour offers daily flights from the regional airport to Baltimore Washington International.
“We filled more than 90 percent of seats in the month of July. Almost half the flights were completely sold out,” Contour CEO Matt Chaifetz said. “To say it’s surpassed our expectations would be an understatement. We’ve been blown away by the response.”
While airline and airport officials may explore potentially adding another destination, there are some logistical challenges such as having enough aircraft on site for both D.C. and another city.
“It is something we’re studying: the possibility of a Florida service in the winter,” Chaiftez said. “The important thing is we would not be receiving a subsidy. The pricing would have to be set at a level to cover our full costs. The Florida service would be higher than what people have become accustomed to from Macon to D.C.”
The airport also has had success with Sun Country Airlines charter flights to Biloxi, Mississippi, according to a Macon-Bibb County news release.
From January to June, 13,700 airline passengers came through the regional airport. There were 1,310 during the same time span last year, the release stated.
“We’ve seen passengers from as far out as Columbus, Valdosta, Dublin and Covington,” airport manager Erick D’Leon wrote in an email to The Telegraph. “The service we have here is not just for Middle Georgia. It’s for folks that are looking for a more convenient method of air travel from all over the state.”
Because of the response, the airport could reap some more benefits.
If Middle Georgia Regional Airport surpasses a benchmark of having more than 10,000 enplanements — that’s only counting passengers boarding planes — within a 12-month period, the airport is eligible for $1 million in federal funds each year for infrastructure improvements. The airport currently has access to $150,000 per year.
The airport has had about 6,900 passengers board planes this year, said Blake Roy, assistant airport manager. Airport management predicts to exceed the 10,000 mark by the end of the year.
More funding could mean a runway extension for the Middle Georgia Regional Airport.
“The runway extension is critical to the airport’s future as it permits a wider array of aircraft to operate at the field, and it also allows existing aircraft a greater reach from Macon,” D’Leon wrote in his email.
If Macon wants to service more distant destinations, the aircraft needs to be able to carry more fuel.
“More fuel is more weight, and more weight requires more runway to takeoff,” D’Leon wrote. “So it’s really about offering our existing fleet greater reach and flexibility on destinations.
“For the community that means connectivity to a greater number of destinations.”
In January 2017, Contour and airport representatives announced plans to bring new air service to Macon after a $4.7 million annual subsidy from the U.S. Department of Transportation was awarded over a two-year period.
Contour’s service filled the void left by the departure of Silver Airways in 2014 after nine months operating at the regional airport. Prior to that, Georgia Skies left after having fewer than 500 passengers in 2012 and experiencing issues with delays and cancellations.
The Washington, D.C., area was selected because of nearby Robins Air Fore Base.
And the Baltimore airport was chosen over the suburban Washington Dulles International Airport because of the Amtrak service it offers along the eastern corridor.
“The military was certainly the driving force behind the service to D.C.,” Chaifetz said. “At the price point that we’re offering service and ease of using Middle Georgia Regional Airport over driving to Atlanta, it’s been (appealing) to not only the military but also for the leisure travel.”
Telegraph videographer Beau Cabell contributed to this report.