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US Airways direct flight from Augusta to Washington shows popularity early

Direct flights to capital well-booked

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Jim Hussey has his eye on a plane leaving Augusta Regional Airport for Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

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Elizabeth Bolin, of Martinez, stands on the tarmac as she helps prepare an airliner for a direct flight from Augusta to Washington, D.C.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Elizabeth Bolin, of Martinez, stands on the tarmac as she helps prepare an airliner for a direct flight from Augusta to Washington, D.C.

As a local staffer for U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Hussey travels to the nation’s capital a few times each month. He hopes to book the direct US Airways flights for two meetings later this month.

“It makes such a difference – a direct flight without the hassle,” he said. “This puts you right in.”

US Airways started service from Augusta to Washington on July 11. In the first seven weeks, the flight averaged 65 percent capacity. Flight numbers for September haven’t been released, but Diane Johnston, the airport’s marketing director, said they should continue climbing.

Johnston said the 50-passenger flight has been popular with travelers from Fort Gordon, Savannah River Site and other employers that routinely conduct business in Washington.

Flights on Friday, Sunday and Monday nights have been nearing capacity, she said.

Because Hussey isn’t given much advance notice of his meetings in Washington, he is worried the tickets will sell too quickly for him to grab a seat. He has many colleagues who have flown the new route.

“We’ve been pushing for it as a person who deals with constituents,” he said. “I think it’s going to be well-used, especially as Fort Gordon grows.”

Direct flights from Augusta to other major markets had some success but were eventually pulled. In February, a Dallas-bound flight was discontinued after American Eagle’s parent company, AMR Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Dallas flight, which began in June 2010, was 82 percent occupied in its first two months of service.

A Continental flight to Newark, N.J., in 2003 was 43 percent full its first month and 69 percent in its second month of service – April, when flight numbers generally spike during the Masters Tournament.

The flight always struggled to attract ticket buyers because of inconvenient flight times for business travelers, Johnston said. The service to Newark ended in October 2004.

Despite good projections for the US Airways flight to Washington, Johnston said she expects larger aircraft to enter the Augusta market before another direct flight is added. Augusta has a steady demand for seats but airlines are cutting back, she said.

“They don’t just have extra aircraft laying around,” Johnston said. “To add a second flight for us, they have to find an available aircraft and crew. It’s not a decision they make lightly.”

Because US Airways incurred great expense in starting the Augusta-to-Washington flight, she doesn’t see the airline stopping it.

“What any airline doesn’t want to do is stop and start service to a market,” she said.


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