It starts with at least one and grows from there.
That was the case Friday for Southern Airways’ inaugural flight from Nantucket to Green Airport.
Island resident Dakota Mello was that first passenger, although she had no idea this was the first flight or that an entourage of Rhode Island Airport Corp. officials would be on the tarmac to greet her.
Traveling with her from the island were Stan Little, chairman and CEO of the airline based in Pompano Beach, Florida, and Mark Cestari, the airline’s chief commercial officer. It was Cestari’s knowledge of Rhode Island – he’s a former director of the Providence/Warwick Visitors Convention Bureau – that brought the airline to the state.
Mello, who makes three or four visits to the mainland each year, said she stumbled upon Southern Airways while doing an online search of flights to Providence. She is planning to stay with friends in the area.
Little and Cestari are banking that many islanders and seasonal residents will view the service as providing access to Green’s destinations across the country and abroad.
“We had dinner with several people in Nantucket,” Little said. “And the biggest thing we heard was, ‘We are excited when you guys get into the terminal and you get your American interline going. You are going to be our gateway to get to the rest of America.’ Instead of going to Logan and having to check your bags twice and go through security twice and do all of that … we want to put some connecting passengers through this airport.”
Southern Airways is operating eight-passenger Cessna Caravans daily, except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fares during peak times range from $129 to $179 one way, Cestari said. They are considering some special off-peak rates of $69 to $79 to introduce the service to islanders.
Southern is scheduled to run the service through Oct. 14, but that could change.
“As of right now [we will have] morning and evening flights, and then we’ll see if we get a good enough response to make it a year-round thing. That’s what we’re hoping for,” Little said.
“One of the things we talked about in Nantucket was for this to be a year-round operation, it has to be locals wanting to come off the island,” Cestari said.
What about bookings?
“We are seeing an upsurge as we get closer to time,” Little said. “We think this is going to be a market that has very near-end ticketing rather than months out. So it’s slow as word gets out. It’s going to take time. It’s going to be a word-of-mouth market on the island.”
For the foreseeable future, the service is operating in and out of the North Star Aviation building on Airport Road. Cestari is hopeful operations at the terminal can start in July.
The North Star location made for some delay for Mello, whose greeter was waiting for her at the terminal. A call straightened that out and her ride arrived at North Star.
Iftikhar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corp., was delighted with the added connecting service to Green and offered to help Little develop additional destinations for the Southern network.
And just to verify the comfort of the Caravan, Ahmad boarded the plane and sat across from Little – where, as he said, every seat is a first-class seat with an aisle and a window.