A new era dawned for midstate air travel this morning, as Harrisburg International Airport inaugurated commuter flights to the Steel City.
HIA officials gathered at Gate B4 to celebrate prior to the 8:55 a.m. departure of Southern Airways Express first flight to Pittsburgh International Airport, connecting the two cities by air for the first time since 2008.
“Pittsburgh is one of the few big cities that was not connected to its state capital,” said Southern Executive Vice President of Business Development Mark Cestari.
“Pittsburgh really wanted the service.”
“The industry is contracting, and the smaller cities are getting squeezed that’s the bad news,” Cestari said. “The good news is that it has created a wealth of opportunities for our company.”
Based in Southaven, Miss., just south of Memphis, Tenn., Southern Airways Express operates a fleet of commuter aircraft, and does code-share flights for larger airlines.
It serves the Gulf states region from Memphis, and also has grown a network of routes serving Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Prior to adding Harrisburg, Southern flew daily in the Mid-Atlantic Region between Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania communities of Altoona, Bradford, Franklin, and Lancaster, as well as Hagerstown, Md., Jamestown, N.Y. and Dulles International Airport, near Washington, D.C.
The new route between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh will offer three non-stop flights each weekday and one flight each day on Saturdays and Sundays, officials said. The service will use 9-passenger Cessna Caravan turboprop commuter planes.
As well, a second midstate route will begin service on Tuesday, linking Harrisburg with Venango Regional Airport, near Franklin, in northwestern Pennsylvania.
US Airways formerly connected Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, and officials said many in Pittsburgh’s business community have expressed an interest in seeing the Western Pennsylvania airport with the state’s capital city.
Scheduled flying time is just over 90 minutes, with the flight set to reach Pittsburgh at 10:30 a.m.
Edwards and members of the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority board, which governs HIA, will travel on the inaugural flight to Pittsburgh, where officials with the Alleghany County Airport Authority and Southern Airways Express co-founder Keith Sisson will welcome the flight.
The Business Journal also is scheduled to be aboard. Watch for tweets from reporter Roger DuPuis @rogerdupuis2.