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Community still unaware of airport and flight services, manager says

Local residents take home free round trip flights from Business After Hours at SARA by Tia Lyons | October 12, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.
In this aerial photo, a crowd watches as local band Blackstrap performs at Business After Hours. The event was hosted Sept. 28 at South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field. Airport manager Johnathan Estes said such events help to promote the airport and its commercial air carrier Southern Airways Express, who hosted this month's Business After Hours event, along with SARA and the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce, in September. (Contributed)

Johnathan Estes, manager of South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field, is looking for ideas on how to promote the airport.

Business After Hours was held Sept. 28 at SARA and drew approximately 250 people.

The event was hosted by SARA, Southern Airways Express and the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce.

As he greeted and mingled with guests, Estes said he repeatedly encountered two comments that he often hears from residents in El Dorado and Union County.

"'I didn't know El Dorado had an airport. I didn't know there was an airline here.' Do y'all have any idea how to market an airport?" Estes asked members of the El Dorado Airport Commission on Monday.

"It has to be people within the city to utilize the airport. I've always been stuck in this loop of, 'You don't bring people to the airport. You bring people to the city,'" he continued.

In addition to bringing people to the airport to fly Southern Airways, the area's Essential Air Service (EAS) carrier, Estes said he would like to encourage people to store their aircraft in one of the available hangars at SARA on a long-term basis.

Southern Airways Express is based at SARA and offers flights to Dallas, Memphis, Hot Springs and Harrison.

Hot Springs and Harrison are also government-subsidized EAS communities that are served by Southern Airways.

Southern began flying in El Dorado in 2017 to fill an unexpired contract that was vacated when its immediate successor, SeaPort Airlines, was ordered to shutter operations in September of 2016 as part of a court order in a bankruptcy filing.

Southern has since been awarded two, two-year contracts to serve as the EAS for El Dorado. The current contract expires in 2023.

During an airport commission meeting Monday, Estes reported that a total of 272 passengers boarded Southern flights in September to fly to Dallas, Memphis and Hot Springs.

He said Hot Springs reported 400 enplanements for September and Harrison, 380.

"I think ... it is in the city's interest to advertise this airline. If we don't hit an average of 10 (passengers) a day, we lose the airline," Estes said.

He noted that Southern Airways is responsible for marketing itself to area residents.

As a part of its EAS contract, Southern offers 18 round-trip flights per week, 14 to Dallas and four to Memphis.

Earlier this year, the airline added round robin flights on Saturday and Sunday as part of its "connect Arkansas" marketing campaign.

Passengers are now able to connect to Hot Springs, Harrison and Memphis through round robin flights on Saturday and Sunday.

The airport commission has previously reached out to the Diamond Agency to come up with ideas to market the airport and its services.

Commissioners also said Monday that other projects, such as one that had been proposed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, would bring people to the airport.

The AGFC had proposed to build a conservation education center on airport property and the airport commission was enthusiastically on board.

The center would have been the first in south Arkansas and would have been open to the public with lots of amenities and interactive features to educate visitors about nature.

However, the project has been placed on hold due to a change by the AGFC in the conceptual design that was favored by the Airport Commission.

Still, Estes said events like Business After Hours help to raise awareness about SARA and Southern Airways.

Several people, some unexpectedly, will be packing for trips to Dallas and Cancun after having won airline tickets that were given away by Southern Airways Express during BAH.

Kristi Webb won the grand prize drawing, a pair of round trip tickets to Cancun. Sonya Stooky picked up a pair of round-trip tickets to Dallas.

Participants in a paper airplane contest were set to win model airplanes as prizes, but as the winners were about to be announced, Southern Airways announced that the first, second and third place winners would also each take home two round-trip tickets to Dallas.

Winners included Carson Mosby, Father Charles "Chuck" Chapman and James Faith.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages that were left over from the event were donated to the Salvation Army, whose staff and volunteers were standing by to collect the items.

Print Headline: Community still unaware of airport and flight services, manager says

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