The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded Southern Airways Express (9X, Memphis Int'l) three new Essential Air Service (EAS) contracts in El Dorado, Harrison, and Hot Springs, Arkansas after the liquidation of previous EAS provider SeaPort Airlines (K5, Portland Int'l, OR).

SeaPort had continued to operate the routes while it was under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but immediately ceased all flights when it went into liquidation on September 20, 2016.

After an emergency request, the DOT received seven proposals from ADI Aerodynamics, Air Choice One, Boutique Air, Corporate Flight Management (operating as Contour Airlines), Great Lakes Airlines, Silver Airways, and Southern Airways Express.

Interestingly, Southern was not the first choice for any of the communities which were consulted. El Dorado, Boone County and Harrison all selected Contour Airlines, while Hot Springs representatives supported Boutique Air.

In going against the wishes of the local representatives, the DOT cited Southern’s reliability, as well as its capacity to access Global Distribution Systems (GDSs) and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs). It also cited the subsidy rates, with Southern’s proposal nearly USD6.5 million lower than the options chosen by the communities.

Southern will run eighteen weekly nonstop round trips El Dorado-Dallas/Fort Worth for an annual subsidy of USD2,306,627; twelve weekly nonstop round trips Harrison-Dallas/Fort Worth and six weekly nonstop round trips Harrison-Memphis Int'l for an annual subsidy of USD2,397,188; and, eighteen weekly nonstop round trips Hot Springs-Dallas/Fort Worth for an annual subsidy of USD2,378,312. All flights will be operated using a 9-seat Cessna (single turboprop)s, with the contract running from January 1, 2017 until February 28, 2019.