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Donna Braymer/Staff

Southern Airways Express brought the newly painted and refurbished interior Caravan to Harrison for their presentation on Monday. The board chose to continue the EAS service with Southern for another two years.

The Boone County Regional Airport has chosen Southern Airways Express to continue the Essential Air Service (EAS) contract with Option A which is 18 weekly, round-trips on the Caravan aircraft.

The Board of Directors met Tuesday to discuss the four airlines that made bid proposals with the DOT and the three airlines that made presentations to the board.

Airport manager, Judy McCutcheon asked them to decide on the airline first, and then decide on the routes and planes. The board asked for her recommendation and she admitted that she had felt from the beginning that whoever received the bid needed to offer better or equal to what the airport currently has with Southern.

“They have purchased approximately 9,000 gallons of fuel a month, been 100% on time and paid their rent on time. Customers love flying with Southern. I’ve received no complaints. They also promised their tickets would not ever be higher than $99. So, it’s my recommendation to select Southern for another two-year contract,” McCutcheon said.

The board all agreed. Now to decide on the Caravan or the Pilatus PC12. Board member Blaise Koch said he did some research on the cargo space of the two planes and the Caravan has 150 cubic feet of space for baggage versus the Pilatus has 47 cubic feet.

They decided the Caravan was still the best plane for this market because leisure travelers like having their luggage with them.

Also on Monday during the tour of the planes, Mark Cestari, chief commercial officer, said the personal space on the Caravan is 37 cubic feet. The only plane that offers more is the 747. The air conditioning and circulation is great on the Caravans. The reconditioned interior was impressive to the group. New leather seats, headliner and carpet. Plus, USB ports at each seat to charge devices while flying.

Southern CEO Stan Little said, “The PC12 boasts of nine seats … but one of those is the potty, and it’s not really very comfortable for an hour flight.”

Now to decide on which option. All Dallas flights? Or some Memphis and Dallas? McCutcheon reported that several times the planes have come and gone empty on the Memphis connection.

“We do have some ‘through’ passengers,” she said.

The board asked what a ‘through’ passenger was. She explained, it’s a passenger that begins in Dallas, lands in Harrison, gets off to use the facilities, gets some snacks and reboards to continue to Memphis. “We get to count those passengers as enplanements, and that’s been good.”

Board member Layne Ragsdale explained later that getting to count through passengers is good, but it has taken seats away from locals who are trying to get home many times.

Also, Little told the board Monday that he was planning on offering non-subsidized flights to Hot Springs and El Dorado that would connect with Memphis on the weekends to rotate his planes through their main maintenance hub in Memphis.

So once again, chairman Lad Brooks asked for McCutcheon’s recommendation.

“I think we should choose the 18 flights to Dallas. It’s devastating to me to cut out Memphis. But I also hate to see empty planes coming and going to Memphis,” she said.

The board agreed unanimously and the recommendation will be made to the DOT before the Sept. 30 deadline.

McCutcheon said she hopes to hear within 30 days. The new contract will take effect in March.

“This community is fortunate to have the board members we have. Thank you for the extra time this has taken. Stan Little told me he was very impressed with this board and the community leaders, because everyone was wearing masks,” McCutcheon said.

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