Smaller planes, more flights to Chicago arrive at Muskegon Airport


MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI — A new commercial airline will offer more flights between Muskegon and Chicago than are currently offered, but on smaller planes.

The US Department of Transportation has accepted a proposal from Southern Airways Express to provide passenger service from Muskegon County Airport. It will be the only airline to offer regular commercial passenger service from the airport.

Beginning Oct. 1, it will offer 36 weekly flights on nine-passenger planes between Muskegon and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Southern Airways Express will replace SkyWest, which earlier this year announced plans to stop serving Norton Shores Airport.

Skywest, operating under the United Express brand, offers 14 flights a week between Muskegon and Chicago O’Hare on 50-seat turbofans, a variant of a jet.

Southern Airways Express flights will be on slower turboprop planes, with average one-way fares of $52, according to the proposal submitted to the US Department of Transportation.

“The substantial increase in flight frequencies will allow customers much greater access and connectivity to the national air transportation system, and we invite business travelers and families from all over the region to try the county airport. Muskegon and Southern Airways Express as an easy and convenient air travel option. Muskegon County Administrator Mark Eisenbarth said in a prepared statement.

The 36-flight-a-week proposal will cost the federal government $3.9 million in the first year with annual increases to $4.2 million in the fourth year, according to the proposal.

SkyWest cited a pilot shortage for its need to pull out of Muskegon and 28 other small airports that receive federal “Essential Air Services” grants.

Southern Airways Express was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Palm Beach, Florida. He will fly Cessna 208 Grand Caravan aircraft out of Muskegon.

“We believe our service has many benefits, including much higher frequency,” Southern Airways Express Chief Commercial Officer Mark Cestari said in a prepared statement. “It gives passengers more choice (and) a lot more connection options, which is so important in today’s highly disrupted air travel environment.”

He said Southern Airways Express works with United, American and Alaska airlines as interline partners. Interline agreements allow passengers to change flights without having to collect their baggage or check in again.

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