First week of flights

Sunday, November 25, 2007
Passengers boarded the Big Sky Airlines 1:45 p.m. flight to Cincinnati on Friday at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. The Delta Air Lines affiliate operates a Beech 1900D twin-engine turboprop that can seat 19 people. (Fred Lynch)

Tim LeGrand of Benton, Mo., was glad to have passenger air service back at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport in time for Thanksgiving this year.

The resumption of service made it much easier to spend some holiday time with his son in Winston-Salem, N.C., where his Friday afternoon flight would eventually take him after a brief stop in Cincinnati.

LeGrand said he'd never flown out of the local airport before he boarded with seven other passengers that afternoon. Without the connecting flight to Cincinnati, he would have driven to St. Louis and paid for gas and long-term parking. Instead he saves plenty in time and convenience.

"When I get off the plane Monday, I drive 15 minutes and I'm home," Le Grand said.

Last Sunday, passenger air service came back to the airport for the first time since March, when Tennessee-based RegionsAir was grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Now the Montana-based Big Sky Airlines has taken over flights, with two daily round trips to Cincinnati and a morning route expected to come online Dec. 21. The service connects with Delta Air Lines flights out of Cincinnati.

While the first week, which included a busy travel holiday, didn't see any fully booked flights on Big Sky's 19-seater aircraft, airport manager Bruce Loy said he's happy with the use the service is getting in its first week. Eight seats were reserved on the first flight of the day Wednesday, he said. And before the end of the first week, Loy said, Big Sky had brought round-trip fares down to $170 plus taxes and fees from the $270 fee that was originally announced.

Loy said he can't say for sure if most people are going to Cincinnati or catching connecting flights, but anecdotal evidence from phone calls points to a mix of direct and connecting flights. Passengers are flying both for business and pleasure, he said.

"I've seen families at the airport picking up grandmothers and friends," Loy said.

Procter & Gamble Co. employees were expected to use the service, as the company has a headquarters in Cincinnati. Calls to the local Procter & Gamble plant were not returned. Calls to Big Sky president Fred de Leeuw were also not returned.

Loy said most flights have just a few passengers, anywhere from five to nine typically, and the service has been running smoothly without delays or cancellations, other than some cancellations Wednesday due to weather.

"Any time you're getting up around the six to nine number, you're doing pretty good," said Loy, adding that he expected more seats to fill as more people find out about the service.

Local travel agent Susan Berghoff at First Class Travel said she has had a few customers book connecting flights on the service, but many people don't seem to know about it. Those customers she has booked have been flying on business, she said.

Over the Thanksgiving travel period, Loy said, nonbusiness use seemed to pick up some, with passengers like LeGrand flying to see family in far-off destinations. On LeGrand's flight, Virginia Brown was headed to Tucson, Ariz., via Salt Lake City.

Her flight was expected to land in Arizona around 10 p.m. Friday. Brown said she couldn't complain about getting across the country in eight hours.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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