MUSCLE SHOALS — Northwest Alabama Regional Airport officials will travel to Atlanta on Friday to express concerns about the performance of the Shoals' new commercial air service provider.
Silver Airways, which also serves the Mississippi communities of Tupelo, Greenville, Meridian and Laurel/Hattiesburg, has been plagued by cancellations and late departing flights since beginning service to Atlanta in October.
Airport Director Barry Griffith, airport board member Barry Auchly, who also is chairman of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce's Air Services Committee, and businessman Allen Tomlinson have scheduled a meeting with Silver officials.
Griffith said during Tuesday's Air Services Committee meeting that he hopes the visit will answer some questions about Silver's performance and when improvements can be expected.
They also want to discuss fares, which have increased significantly since the departure of Delta Air Lines from the airport in Muscle Shoals.
"We want to encourage Silver to become as competitive as they can with surrounding airports," Griffith said.
He said local travelers will use Northwest Alabama Regional Airport if ticket fares were within $100 of a competing airport. He said flying out of the local airport saves travelers money in parking fees, fuel and time spent driving to an airport in Huntsville, Birmingham or Nashville.
Griffith said only 30 percent of flights from Muscle Shoals to major metropolitan areas were within $100 of fares offered in Huntsville.
"Unfortunately, 70 percent are outside that range," Griffith said.
He said it's been more difficult to bring fares in line with Huntsville fares since Delta left the Shoals.
Even if fares were competitive, Griffith said Silver's on-time performance and cancelled flights have negatively impacted the service.
Boardings for January were 141 compared to 617 just a year ago.
Auchly said he understands there will be issues because the company is new, but the people involved have been in the airline business for years.
He and Griffith said the airline's performance issues have been improving, but ironically, Tuesday's morning flight was 90 minutes late. Committee member Tim Rhodes said a delay of that length could cause travelers to miss a connecting flight in Atlanta.
Rhodes said he understands why some Shoals travelers are opting to fly out of Huntsville.
Auchly said he expects the airline's service to improve in the "next month or two."
"This is not a new phenomenon for any industry," he said of the issues Silver is experiencing.
Griffith said the committee and the airport board of directors want to hold off on significant marketing efforts until Silver has a more reliable product to offer.
"Hopefully, we will know more after Friday's meeting," he said.
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.
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