Augusta goes to Washington on new direct flight

 A new flight targeting business travelers seeking to fly directly to Washington debuted Wednesday at Augusta Regional Airport.

The US Airways route takes travelers to and from Reagan National Airport. Diane Johnston, Augusta Regional’s director of marketing, said the nation’s capital is a top destination for Augusta travelers because of federal jobs at Fort Gordon and Savannah River Site.

One of those travelers was Mike Smith, a federal government contractor who booked the first incoming flight from Reagan National to Augusta. He travels the route about once a month and said he is pleased he no longer needs a connection in Charlotte, N.C.

“It’s a shorter flight than the combined two flights,” Smith said. “It’s very convenient not having to wait on another plane or not having to wait on weather delays.”

The inaugural flight from Reagan arrived in Augusta four minutes ahead of its scheduled 6:07 p.m. landing, with 42 passengers. Twenty-two travelers booked the departing 6:35 p.m. flight, which left Augusta six minutes early and landed at 8:29 p.m, 12 minutes later than scheduled.

For Kathy Selby, of Augusta, the route is a direct link to her grandson born Monday. Before, she visited family in Washington using a US Airways connecting flight in Charlotte.

“It’s a shorter travel time,” Selby said. “Hopefully, we’ll have enough business to get more direct flights.”

US Airways Express partner Air Wisconsin operates the Sunday-through-Friday service to Augusta on a 50-seat Canadair regional jet.

Chuck Allen, the managing director of government and community relations for US Airways, said Augusta is one of 22 cities the airline has added from Reagan National since March.

“Washington is the most important political destination in the world,” Allen said. “Now, you have nonstop service to it.”

In 2011, US Airways Ex­press had 192,692 passengers from Augusta to Charlotte, N.C. That’s up from 177,735 passengers in 2010.

“We’ve been trying to get a D.C. flight for 50 years or more. We’ve heard the voice of the folks asking for it,” said Jay Forrester, the Augusta Aviation Commission chairman.

“Last year, 2011, we surpassed the half-million passenger mark,” he said. “And by doing that, I think, we got on the radar of US Airways and were able to secure this flight.”

Destined for D.C.?

The direct flight originates at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., at 4:20 p.m., lands in Augusta at 6:07 p.m. and departs at 6:35 p.m., arriving at Reagan at 8:17 p.m. It operates Sunday through Friday.

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