Eagle flight to Dallas is key air link for Augusta

Maj. Mark Johnson, who is stationed at Fort Gordon, has to travel for business conferences about every three months.


He used to drive to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, but for the past several months he's flown out of Augusta Regional Airport.

The biggest factor for that change has been the American Eagle flights to Dallas-Fort Worth.

"I like having that nonstop flight to Dallas. It's so much better than going all the way to Atlanta," Johnson said.

Johnson was returning Thursday afternoon from a trip that would have taken him two flights a little more than a year ago, before American Eagle became the third airline to fly into Augusta.

"It's gone over better than even we expected." Diane Johnston, the director of marketing for Augusta Regional, said of Eagle's return to the Garden City.

American Eagle, an American Airlines affiliate, came to Augusta in 1991 but changed its flight schedule in 1993 and eliminated Augusta. The airline returned June 10, 2010.

"It took us a while to find the right fit for Augusta," said Ed Martelle, a spokesman for American Eagle.

Cedric Johnson, a member and former chairman of the Augusta Aviation Commission, said several factors have made American Eagle's second try a success.

"They did their homework," he said of the airline. "American Eagle studied the community, and it has paid off."

In addition to Eagle's work, Johnson said, the new terminal has helped to bolster ticket sales and Augusta Regional staff have worked hard to attract and keep business for the airport.

"When a lot of cities are losing service, we're very blessed to be gaining one," he said.

The airline seems to be doing well. At the end of 2010, Augusta Regional Executive Director Gary LeTellier said American Eagle was directly involved in making 2010 a record year for the airport. The airport served almost 500,000 passengers in 2010 -- beating the old record by more than 3,000.

"It is really gratifying to have a record-breaking year in these incredibly challenging times," LeTellier said.

As an American Airlines affiliate, Eagle feeds traffic to larger markets and larger planes. Eagle currently flies to 38 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Traffic centers to and from the seven American Airlines hubs -- Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Chicago O'Hare, New York LaGuardia, New York Kennedy and San Juan. The Eagle fleet has 270 aircraft.

As for the future, Eagle would not comment specifically on any plans for increased destinations or larger aircraft.

"We're always looking for opportunities," Martelle said. "If service in Augusta starts to outgrow our airplanes, we will run larger planes. If we outgrow those, we'll offer more flights."

This possibility is something he doesn't look to happen soon.

"I don't think we're there yet," he said.

Having a third airline and destination is vital to the area's development, according to Walter Sprouse, executive director of the Development Authority of Richmond County.

Sprouse said he has business associates fly in all the time using the Dallas-Fort Worth flight, cutting their travel time significantly.

The Development Authority works to bring businesses to the Augusta area, and Sprouse said companies are always concerned with how easy it is to travel in and out of the Augusta area.

"It's very important for us to have those three airlines here," he said. "Maybe even soon a fourth."

Outside of Delta and US Airways and their regional carriers, other airlines historically have had trouble maintaining a presence in Augusta.

Eastern Metro Express ended eight years of service in 1991 because its parent airline shut down.

In 2000 and 2001 Comair was a Delta connection carrier to Cincinnati. It pulled out in late 2001 after a pilot's strike and a drop in air travel that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

And then Continental Express took its place as the third carrier in Augusta. It flew passengers to Newark and Houston for almost two years before stopping service in 2004, citing a lack of business passengers.




Approximate number of customers served every month

Airlines have flown through Augusta Regional since 1980

American Eagle passengers served from January through April

Percent of American Eagle flights completed January through April

Percent of American Eagle flights departing on time, January through April

Source: Augusta Regional Airport