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Southern Airways Express Selects C208

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In early 2013 Southern Air Express changed travel opportunities when they opened operations in Memphis, TN. They run regular service between their home base and the Gulf Coast in the Cessna 208. Southern Airways Express as a concept started in 2012. There had been a need for lift out of the Memphis area after the airlines pulled service to many Gulf Coast destinations.

Southern Airways Express (callsign Lightspeed) operates regularly between Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham, Knoxville, Destin, Biloxi, Panama City, and many other select cities. Additionally they operate on-demand as the need arises. I recently had a chance to speak with Stan Little. Stan came to JA in 2012 looking for a series of Caravans to operate.

ERS: “What was the process in selecting the Cessna 208 and why did you pick the 208?”

Stan Little: “When we began our search for an aircraft to be the backbone of our airline fleet, our selection criteria were: comfort/spaciousness, reliability, safety, fuel efficiency, and maintenance costs.  We believe that we found all of those in the Caravan.  Since our fellow Memphian, Fred Smith, designed the aircraft specifically for cargo operations at FedEx, we knew that it had the space and weight requirements that we would need for our passenger operations.  When we discovered that its reliability is unparalleled in the industry, and that its safety record could alleviate any fears of single-engine operation, we were nearly sold.  Once we looked at the fuel efficiency (at a miserly 52 gallons per hour) and extremely low maintenance costs (since it has a limited number of systems and no pressurization), we knew we had found our flagship plane.

ERS: “What were the other aircraft you looked at?”

Stan Little: “As we were seeking an aircraft with 9 passenger seats (we utilize secondary, executive airports in order to save our passengers the hassle of TSA security at major commercial airports, thus we are limited to 9 seats per flight), there were only a few aircraft that fit into our criteria.  The Cessna 402 has been around for 40 years and is a great plane, but we knew that fuel and maintenance would eat us alive.  The Super King C200 is another awesome aircraft, but doubling the fuel burn of the Caravan was just not an option for scheduled service.  The only other real alternative was the Pilatus PC-12– also a great airplane.  But it is designed for longer-haul flights, and it’s hourly maintenance cost is substantially higher than the Caravan.  Plus, on flights of our range (250-400 miles), the Pilatus time advantage is only a few minutes better than the Caravan.  As enamored as I was with the Pilatus from an aesthetic perspective, it didn’t even compete with the costs and efficiencies of the Caravan.”

ERS: “Now that you have a season under your belt, do you feel the aircraft to be the right fit?”

Stan Little: “No question about it, we proved in our first year of flying that the Caravan is the perfect aircraft for Southern Airways.  We will grow and expand using the SouthWest model– one single aircraft in the fleet– until and unless we opt for larger planes in the 19 and 29 seat range on our higher volume routes.  Frankly, it is weren’t for the Caravan, our model just wouldn’t work, at least not at our price point.”

ERS: “What are those reasons that you feel that it is the right fit?”

Stan Little: “See above– fuel burn, maintenance cost, and passenger comfort.  Our passengers have more personal space than they do on a regional jet, since we have single seat configuration on either side of the aisle.  No sharing an armrest!”

JA Air Charter operates the aircraft and the scheduling/dispatching for Southern Airways Express. This is not the first time JA has has operated aircraft remotely. JA Air Charter did supplemental lift for an operator in the Caribbean over a winter/spring vacation season. Additionally JA Air Charter saw success in operations in the Las Vegas area operating flights to the Grand Canyon airport. Finally, JA Aero leases several aircraft to other airlines, DOD, and DOD contractors for missions both CONUS and OCONUS.pic_116001_3_med

Through the different economies, the Cessna Caravan has always served our operation well. Leasing opportunities and camera installations are always in process. The Cessna Caravan has proven very versatile for our company. A customer comes to us with a mission and the 208 is always able to meet the missions in the demanding environments that our customers operate in.

For your next business venture or start up flight department, take a look at the Cessna Caravan.