Originally created 03/04/03

Airline begins nonstop flights



The inaugural Continental Express flights from Augusta Regional Airport took off Monday with a crowd of more than 300 people filling the terminal for the festivities.

Numerous attendees took to the air to try out the new flights and return home the same day, but there were a few people who were flying Monday for business and to meet family, too.

"We're going to New Jersey to visit my folks," said Dennis Becker, of Columbia. "My dad is in the hospital."

Mr. Becker said he and his traveling companion Kay Elders happened to get free promotional tickets for the Augusta-to- Newark, N.J., flight from a friend who is a travel agent.

The timing of the trip wasn't intended to coincide with the start-up of Continental Express flights out of Augusta, he said.

"We just happened to come across here today," Ms. Elders said, "but it's a very nice airport. It looks very clean and fresh."

Walter Sprouse, the director of the Development Authority of Richmond County, said his trip was more than just to go up to Newark and then return.

"I'm going to spend some time in New York and come back tomorrow," he said, stating he was meeting with some economic development consultants who help businesses decide where to locate their operations.

Mr. Sprouse said the consultants were pleased to hear about the new nonstop flights to Newark and Houston

"It certainly boosts our position as a business location, and the county did a great job in getting Continental here," he said.

Also filling the airport were political and business leaders, including Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who took an early-morning flight to Newark Liberty International Airport and returned at midday with Newark Mayor Sharp James.

"There was a ribbon-cutting at the gate there," Mr. Young said, "but it compared in no way with our arrival in Augusta. It was just another flight arrival for Newark."

Mr. Young said Augustans need to make sure the airline stays.

"We've made the investment, now it's up to the people to continue to support the service," he said. "If we don't, Continental doesn't make money and has less of a reason to stay here."

Entertainer James Brown even dropped by to welcome the newest flight additions.

"I think this will help bring business back and gives us a chance to be better connected with the rest of the country," Mr. Brown said.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.