News: CJ Exclusives

Bid for Passenger Air Service Fails

Hickory offers incentives to attract a carrier, but it has cease operations

Hickory’s second attempt at offering incentives to attract airline service to the city has failed. The carrier that Hickory had reached a tentative agreement with in May, Southeast Airlines, ceased operations Tuesday before flights to the city could begin.

“Southeast Airlines has made its final landing and has ceased airline operations,” a statement on the carrier’s website said. “We apologize for the inconvenience this will cause to our customers. This action is due in part to the unplanned and uncontrollably high cost of fuel combined with a low yield environment that makes it impossible for Southeast to continue offering low-cost air transportation.”

Southeast was a Largo, Fla.-based scheduled charter carrier specializing in serving lesser-used airports. Its flights were primarily aimed at bringing vacationers to Florida. The airline did not fly on Tuesdays. Under the tentative agreement, Hickory would have provided $450,000 toward advertising, to pay customer-service and ramp staff to handle the flights, and pay for infrastructure improvements at the airport. Southeast would have flown to St. Petersburg, Fla. from Hickory. City officials were hopeful that the airline might have added other destinations in the future.

The city also had applied for a federal grant for infrastructure improvements to support the flights.

The carrier had served Allentown, Pa.; Columbus Ohio; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Gary, Ind.; Newburgh, N.Y.; Orlando, Fla.; and St. Petersburg, Fla. with a fleet of eight jets before it shut down.

Hickory has been without airline service since April 2002, when an US Airways-affiliated commuter carrier dropped its flights to Charlotte.

In 2003, Hickory entered into a consortium with New Bern, Kinston, Moore County (Pinehurst/Southern Pines), Fayetteville, and Wilmington to apply for a federal grant to help start air service between the communities and Raleigh. The deal fell through when the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the group only one-third of the $3.6 million it had sought. Hickory was prepared to offer $339,000 in incentives as part of the deal.

Michael Lowrey is associate editor of Carolina Journal.