News & Updates

Boutique Air selection approved by U.S. Department of Transportation

December 12, 2015

Originally published in the Times Daily.

The U.S. Department of Transportation approved the selection of Boutique Air to provide commuter air service to the Shoals under the Essential Air Service program.

The San Francisco-based airline was chosen by a local committee to replace SeaPort Airlines, which terminated service in the Shoals in October.

The Transportation Department’s order was issued Friday, Muscle Shoals Mayor David Bradford said.

The airline will provide 24 round trips per week to Nashville International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. There will be two trips to each city Monday-Friday and one flight to each city on the weekend.

The airline will utilize an 8-passenger Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.

Airport Director Barry Griffith said the new service could begin as early as February.

“New airline service normally takes 60 to 90 days once the Department of Transportation service order is received by the selected airline,” Griffith said.

According to the order, the airline’s contract begins Feb. 1, and ends Feb. 28, 2018.

“We tried to push it up a little bit,” Bradford said.

Bradford said he hopes the airline can begin flights in February or March.

The annual subsidy rate is $2,779,632, according to the order.

Boutique Air CEO Shawn Simpson said he is excited about starting new airline service from Muscle Shoals and grateful the communities of northwest Alabama selected Boutique Air as their hometown airline.

The order noted Bradford sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation on behalf of Boutique Air.

“The service level for both the Atlanta and Nashville markets best coincides with the passenger demand from Muscle Shoals and is the optimal service pattern for our area,” Bradford said. “Muscle Shoals is also confident that frequent service to Atlanta and Nashville at the modest subsidy level will generate traffic well in excess of the 10 enplanement per day requirements and also at the $200 subsidy per passenger.”

The airport has been under fire for failing to remain at or under the subsidy cap or the EAS contract requirement to board at least 10 passengers per day.

According to the order, the per passenger subsidy during SeaPort’s tenure at the airport was $821 per passenger.

The department did, however, acknowledge the airport was impacted by SeaPort’s poor service.

“Nevertheless, the department fully expects the community and Boutique Air to continue to work together to ensure the subsidy per passenger is below $200 to remain eligible for EAS,” the order stated.

The order indicated other EAS communities served by Boutique Air generally are pleased with the carrier’s quality of service.

“After two unsuccessful attempts, we are clearly aware of the hard work which lies ahead,” Airport board member and Shoals Chamber Air Services Chairman Barry Auchly said. “Our new year’s resolution is to convince the traveling public that this is a new day in air service from the Shoals.”

Griffith said the dual hub approach presented by Boutique Air was the deciding factor in selecting the airline.

A committee that included Griffith, members of the airport authority, Shoals Air Services Committee and Bradford reviewed proposals from four airlines before making a decision.

“We know many of our local customers are flying out of other airports, and our goal is to offer a more affordable and a more convenient option,” Airport Board Chairman Rick Elliott said. “Boutique Air will offer two daily flights to Atlanta and two daily flights to Nashville with fares as low as $49. So far Boutique Air has been very successful in every market where they have DOT contracts.”

Boutique Air Selected By Northwest Alabama Regional Airport To Provide Essential Air Service

December 2, 2015

Originally published in the The Quad-Cities Daily.

The Northwest Alabama Regional Airport (MSL) has selected Boutique Air to provide essential air service from Muscle Shoals to Atlanta and Nashville. Boutique Air will provide 24 round trip flights a week. Two flights a day will go from Muscle Shoals to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and two flights a day will go to Nashville International Airport (BNA). The dual hub market approach presented by Boutique Air CEO Shawn Simpson was the deciding factor for the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport Authority Board members. Airport Director – Barry Griffith said that this was the best proposal out of the four (4) airlines that bid for service. By having the Atlanta connection passengers can connect to over 1200 flights per day to anywhere in the world. Businessman and Board Member Joe McKinney said that this is great news for the business traveler who can leave MSL in the morning and return later that evening. For the leisure traveler Nashville is a destination market that serves over 50 markets with 390 flights a day with both Southwest and Jet Blue Airlines as low cost carriers. Boutique Air is already located in the Nashville International Airport and is servicing Greenville, Mississippi with two flights a day.

Sub-committee members who made the recommendation to the Airport Board consisted of Mayor David Bradford, Steve Holt, President, Chamber of Commerce, Barry Auchly, Chairman, Air Services Committee and Airport Board Member, Rick Elliott, Chairman, Airport Authority and Joe McKinney, Local Business Owner and Airport Board Member. Mayor David Bradford submitted a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) giving Boutique Air the community endorsement for the new service.

We have had some setbacks with our previous two airlines that were unable to provide reliable air service due to poor management and a lack of qualified pilots said Rick Elliott – Chairman of the Airport Authority. We have a made a step in the right direction with Boutique Air said the Chairman. Mayor David Bradford stated that the new service will be beneficial to the entire community, and we plan to make everyone aware of the advantages of having this new service. The Mayor said after having had the opportunity to take a short flight in the new aircraft, I found it to be very comfortable and very quiet. You can actually have a conversation with your fellow passengers.

Boutique Air will operate a modern fleet of Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. The PC-12 is a Swedish made aircraft and has an excellent safety rating. All flights are flown by Captains with over 1200 hours of flight experience and an instrument rating. Pilatus aircraft are certified to fly with single pilots but Boutique Air opts to fly with a two member crew. The aircraft will have an 8 Passenger Executive Configuration or a 9 Passenger Commuter Configuration. It has a pressurized cabin, power outlets and an enclosed lavatory. Flight time from MSL to ATL is projected at 46 minutes and flight time between MSL and BNA is projected at 26 minutes. The pressurized cabin can fly at 25,000 feet allowing it to fly above most bad weather. Boutique Air has pilots that are highly experienced and hold the most advanced FAA ratings, a key reason for perfect safety record by the company.

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Boutique Air has been in operation since 2007. Boutique began flying fire surveillance missions for the U.S. Forestry Service and Bureau of Land Management. They later evolved to provide air charter services from the Burbank, Hawthorne, Las Vegas and Redding airports. In 2012, Boutique Air applied for commuter operating authority from the DOT and received authority to provide scheduled air carrier service in 2013. Boutique Air has connections in place with all of the major Global Distribution Systems (GDSs), which travel agents use to access the market. You will find Boutique Air on Worldspan and Apollos (Travelport), Sabre and Amadeus reservation systems. In addition, they are on all major Online Travel Agencies (OTA), including Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz, CheapTickets, and CheapOAir.

Boutiques provides Essential Air Service (EAS) in the following communities: Clovis (CVN), Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), Silver City (SVC), Albuquerque (ABQ), Carlsbad (CNM), Alliance (AIA), Denver (DEN), Chadron (CDR), Show Low (SOW), Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX), Merced (MCE), Los Angeles Int’l (LAX), Oakland Int’l (OAK), Las Vegas Int’l (LAS), Los Alamos (LAM), Greenville (GLH) and Nashville Int’l (BNA). More company information can found at https://www.boutiqueair.com/.

The PC-12 Pilatus aircraft is a very fuel efficient aircraft that has over a 1200 Nautical Mile Range. Passengers will experience luxurious travel accommodations normally reserved for private business executives who often use the same type of aircraft for their corporate travel arrangements. Some of the other proposals offered aircraft with twin engines such as Corporate Flight Management (CFM). CFM proposed using the Jetstream 31, a British Aerospace aircraft that is over 20 years and is configured to have 19 seats. Under the traditional EAS program, CFM will be required to reconfigure the aircraft to fly with only 9 seats. CFM was selected to provide EAS in Tupelo and will offer 30 round trip flights a week or 5 flights a day to Nashville only. The other airline proposals were from Air Choice One a Saint Louis based company and Sun Air dba Southern Airways a Memphis based company. Air Choice one offered three flights a day (2 to Nashville and 1 to Saint Louis) and Sun Air offered four flights a day (2 to Atlanta and 2 to Memphis).

Simpson said that during the 60 to 90 days the company will need to get ready for service, it must set the flight schedule and get pilots in place. It is very important that we use this time for marketing the airline and getting the word out to the community. You really need the startup time to let the communities know about the service and educate them of what we have to offer. We anticipate having some very low introductory fares to help generate interest in flying out of the Shoals once again. Our goal is to provide reliable, economical and safe travel options to the North Alabama region.

DOT officials have indicated that it is possible that the order for Boutique to start air service at Muscle Shoals may possibly go out in late December as they are aware that the communities are anxious to get the service started, but it might be delayed until mid-January. Airport officials are hopeful that the new air service can begin as early as February 1, 2016.

Airport gets a makeover

July 9, 2013

Originally published in the Times Daily.

If you haven’t been to Northwest Alabama Regional Airport recently, you have missed the initial stages of a face-lift at the terminal.

The building is in a state of transition with metal wall studs exposed in places, covered by clear plastic in others.

Much of the building is already covered with new wall board, which will eventually be covered with a new exterior finish.

The work is part of a multimillion dollar renovation project that will not only enhance the appearance of the facility, but alleviate water problems and make the building more energy efficient.

“The airport renovation and rehabilitation project is intended to elevate the reputation of the facility from a place where some travelers try to avoid to one they wish to utilize due to convenience,” Airport Director Barry Griffith said. “The last upgrade occurred in 1993 and since that time, the building had begun to show signs of deterioration in certain areas.”

The project will improve the energy efficiency of the building, which also houses Shoals Flight Center and the Silver Airways ticket counter.

In addition to improving passenger comfort, Griffith said, it will provide a sustainable exterior building structure that will alleviate moisture problems.

“This project will include an entirely new wall system composed of new exterior cladding, new wall and roof air and moisture barriers, new wall and roof insulation, a new roofing system and new interior wall finishes,” Griffith said. “New entrance canopies and signage will accent this new, high-tech exterior facade.”

He said the project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

H&N Contractors is the general contractor for the project. The company submitted the low bid of $1,035,000, Griffith said.

Griffith said the project is ahead of schedule and under budget.

“We are thrilled to be part of this important project for the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport Authority,” said Mike Holbrook, project management director at Fuqua & Partners Architects. “The airline terminal building will get a sleek new skin and be fitted with a high-tech energy envelope, perhaps the first of its kind in the private sector in north Alabama. This renovation should provide a low-maintenance exterior and comfortable interior environment for many years to come.”

With the exterior walls being removed, temporary walls must be in place inside the terminal.

The U.S. Department of Energy describes the “building envelope” as a building’s foundation, walls, roof, windows and doors. A building controls the flow of energy between the interior and exterior of the building. A well designed envelope allows the building to provide comfort for the occupants and respond efficiently to heating, cooling, ventilating and natural lighting needs, according to the Energy Department.

Energy efficient

Griffith said the improvements to the terminal will make the building more energy efficient, which should lead to lower utility costs.

The renovations required the relocation of the Silver Airways ticket counter to the area formerly occupied by airport management, which is in the center of the terminal building. Shoals Flight Center has been temporarily relocated to a modular building in the north parking lot.

Silver Airways began service in the Shoals about a year ago and has experienced a bumpy ride so far.

Airline boardings that initially dipped have been steadily increasing, but Griffith said they are still about 40 percent less than the airport’s best year.

Two travelers sat outside the terminal one day last week waiting for an outbound flight that was delayed due to severe weather in Altanta.

Prem Bindraban, who was visiting the International Fertilizer Development Center, said the construction did not disrupt his flight.

“I’m sitting outside because I don’t like the air conditioning,” he said.

He and his traveling companion, Antyama Massada, said the airport should consider marketing the Shoals area to entice people to use the new air carrier.

Bindraban said only three people were on the flight into Muscle Shoals.

To put people in the planes, Massada suggested that the airline or the local airport authority advertise more and target Atlanta to entice people to visit the Shoals with travel packages for events like the W.C. Handy Music Festival or to fish or play golf.

Marketing

Members of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce’s Air Services Committee have discussed at length ways to market the airport and the new air service, including marketing to areas around the Shoals, but held off on implementing a marketing campaign while Silver Airways tweaked its online reservation system.

“We’ve taken a cautious approach in implementing parts of the marketing plan,” Griffith said.

Griffith said the airport has been marketing local air service in various publications.

Mike Reiter, project manager for the airport’s aviation consultant, the Michael Baker Corp., said the project will provide a fresh new look to the airport terminal as it continues to perform as the transportation gateway to the Shoals.

The cost of the renovations is being covered by the entitlement funding the airport receives from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Griffith said the airport board has agreed to allocate FAA money to the project for the next four years.

“Passengers will soon be able to enjoy a modern, hassle-free airport in the Shoals area that offers twice-a-day service to Atlanta at an affordable price,” Griffith said.

Silver Airways begins service to the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport on Monday, October 1

September 25, 2012

MUSCLE SHOALS — On the first Monday in October, a 34-passenger Saab aircraft will arrive at the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport to be greeted by a plume of water from two fire trucks, a traditional welcome salute for the maiden flight for a new carrier.

The celebration marks the beginning of air service between Muscle Shoals and Atlanta by Silver Airways, an air carrier based out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida that serves destinations throughout the eastern United States and the Bahamas.

“We wanted to greet the arrival of the first Silver Airways flight with a traditional ceremony,” explained Barry Griffith, Director of the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport. “Water cannons are used to celebrate maiden flights, and can also be used to mark a captain’s retirement or some other significant event. Having Silver Airways as our carrier is significant to our region, and we are excited to be able to welcome them here.”

Silver Airways replaces Delta service, which had been offering flights between Muscle Shoals and Memphis. “We’re also glad to be flying back to Atlanta, with two incoming and two outbound flights a day,” said Griffith. “Our travelers appear to favor Atlanta because of the ease of connection there, and we anticipate an increase in boardings because of the new service and our new destination.”

The Silver Airways aircrafts are Saab 340s, with fuel-efficient jet turbine engines. The planes seat 34, and service will include a flight attendant on board. The planes will travel at 300+ miles per hour.

On weekdays, Silver Airways will offer a 9:15 morning departure for Atlanta, and a 5:15 afternoon departure. On Saturday, Silver’s plan is to offer a 12:00 noon departure, and on Sunday, travelers can leave for Atlanta at 4:35 p.m.

“In addition to great service from a great company, our air fares are competitive,” said Griffith. “The fact that our parking charges are so low and you don’t have to spend an hour or more on the highway to get to another airport means that we represent a serious and cost-effective traveling option. We hope the traveling public will seriously consider Flying the Shoals.”

After the first flight arrives, a delegation of Shoals area politicians and business leaders will board the plane for the first outbound flight to Atlanta, where they will meet with Silver Airways officials.

The public is invited to view the water cannon salute on Monday, October 1. It is recommended that viewers arrive at 8:30 a.m.; the flight is scheduled to arrive at 8:55.