Originally created 09/07/00

Augusta struggles for flights



David Dorminey, the marketing director for Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field, spent most of last week in Orlando and Miami, introducing himself and his airport to executives at Air Tran Airways and Spirit Airlines.

"It was a way for them to get to know us and for us to get to know them and to talk to them about Augusta and what we have to offer," Mr. Dorminey said.

At any one time, dozens of cities like Augusta are wooing regional jet companies like Air Tran, formerly ValuJet, to bring air service to their communities.

But it was somewhat of a surprise to Mr. Dorminey and Augusta Aviation Commission member Marcie Wilhelmi when they gave Air Tran executives a list of Augusta businesses promising $5 million worth of business a year only to have them show a similar list from Nashville and say, "What else you got?"

"That's what we're up against," Ms. Wilhelmi said on her return from the first part of the trip to Air Tran's Orlando headquarters. Ms. Wilhelmi did not go with Mr. Dorminey to the meeting with Spirit.

Air Tran executives told Mr. Dorminey and Ms. Wilhelmi that Augusta needs to do two things before the Garden City will be put on Air Tran's "future air service" list.

Air Tran wants two surveys: one on the exact number of airline passengers in the Augusta market and another on the amount of money Augustans are willing to pay for air service to either Atlanta or some other hub city.

Mr. Dorminey is busy trying to organize the promotional kick off of new air service from Augusta to Cincinnati via ComAir.

The service is scheduled to begin Dec. 1. If the service is a success - and many aviation officials hope it will be - then ComAir has said it will add a second, and possibly a third daily flight to Delta's second largest hub.

But Mr. Dorminey's marketing efforts are somewhat limited because the aviation commission has not increased the marketing budget.

Mr. Dorminey has about $40,000 to spend on the marketing and promotional activities at the airport through the end of the year.

Augusta Aviation Commission Chairman Ed Skinner said Wednesday the board is likely to appropriate more money to the marketing department as soon as Mr. Dorminey finishes his marketing plan for the airport.

In an unrelated issue, Mr. Dorminey said there is no truth to rumors that Atlantic Southeast Airlines is abandoning its planned regional jet service from Augusta to Atlanta. ASA is scheduled to take over all flights to Atlanta on Oct. 1. Delta Air Lines is moving its three MD-88 jets to the New York market, where there is more demand for the service. In their place, ASA plans to fly three 50-seat CanadAir regional jets to Atlanta.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.