N.C. Airport Nearly Ready for New Delta Flights

With commercial air service set to start operating from Hickory in less than two weeks, the airport is making final preparations for takeoff.

Workers at the Hickory Regional Airport are working on a number of improvements -- from expanding security services to improving runway surfaces -- in preparation for the arrival of Delta Air Lines, which starts service May 1.

The Delta flights -- three a day on Delta Connection to Atlanta -- will bring commercial air service to the Catawba Valley for the first time in more than three years. Hickory lost commercial flights in April 2002, when US Airways left as part of post-Sept. 11 cutbacks.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines will operate the Delta flights on regional jets that will seat 40 to 50 people, officials have said.

To prepare, airport workers, in conjunction with the Transportation Safety Administration, are working to beef up the airport's security services, said Airport Manager Tim Deike.

That includes installing new infrastructure, such as phone lines, and expanding the security area to accommodate new screening equipment, Deike said. Workers unloaded and began setting up the equipment on Monday.

The airport has also been working with Atlantic Southeast Airlines to upgrade the ticket area, he said. And workers are making runway improvements that will help the airport accommodate larger planes, Deike said.

The improvements should be finished well ahead of the arrival of the first Delta jet, which will land in Hickory the night before the flights start on May 1.

Meanwhile, bookings are increasing, Deike said. "About one every couple of days," he said. Deike said he didn't have a total for the number of seats booked so far.

A Delta spokesperson said the company would not release the number of seats that have been booked.

Deike expects the airport to pick up business from places such as Florida, where many residents also have homes or vacation properties in the N.C. mountains. "We're looking to tap that traffic, too," he said.

Meanwhile, Deike and others are still talking with other airlines about the possibility of additional service from Hickory, he said. Deike said he couldn't name the airlines. But Delta's announcement to fly out of Hickory sparked interest from other companies, he said.

On May 1, Delta Air Lines will start operating three flights a day from Hickory to Atlanta.

The flights are scheduled for 6:30 a.m., 11:25 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., with return flights leaving Atlanta at 9:50 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., according to Delta documents. The last flight into Hickory will arrive at 9:47 p.m.