Two hours to Fla.; Nonstop flights from Yeager being planned

Nonstop air service linking Charleston to Florida could be launched this fall, as officials at Yeager Airport await a proposal being formulated by Southern Skyways, the airline that inaugurated nonstop seasonal service between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, S.C., this summer.

Southern Skyways' twice-weekly flights to the popular South Carolina beach destination proved to be so well-received in the Charleston market that only eight seats remained unsold during the carrier's first season. The Atlanta-based carrier began the Charleston-Myrtle Beach flights in early May and ended its debut season on Aug. 6.

Low-cost nonstop service to and from Orlando, Fla., is being offered twice weekly from Huntington's Tri-State Airport on Allegiant Air.

"I think we will have a Florida service that will be complementary to what is offered in Huntington and will be very popular here," Yeager Airport's director, Rick Atkinson, told members of the Charleston airport's governing board on Wednesday.

Atkinson said Southern Skyways "is in the process of putting together its fall schedule, and I think they're close to having a deal put together for us to take a look at. I think it could start in late fall, maybe November."

Atkinson said the carrier is considering a schedule that would not directly compete with the Florida flights departing from Huntington.

"It won't involve the same destination city at the same time," he said.

Nearly 100,000 passengers fly annually to or from Florida via Yeager Airport, according to Atkinson, after making connections in Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta or other hub cities served by the Charleston airport. No nonstop flights to Florida are offered.

Nonstop service would make Florida about a two-hour flight from Charleston.

Brian Belcher, Yeager's marketing director, said after the success of this summer's Myrtle Beach flights, Southern Skyways is also looking at using larger aircraft or adding more flights next summer.

In other developments at Wednesday's board meeting, Atkinson announced that the former smoking lounge in the passenger terminal has been fumigated and repainted and is being used as a security staff training center.

An expanded no-smoking zone outside the terminal building will be up for a final vote by the airport board during its Sept. 26 meeting. Smoking is prohibited within 15 feet of the terminal building's doors. Under proposed rules, smoking would not be allowed within 45 feet of the terminal.

To contact staff writer Rick Steelhammer, use e-mail or call 348-5169.