Smaller planes, more flights to Chicago coming to Muskegon airport

MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – A new commercial airline will provide 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 out of the Muskegon County Airport. It will be the only airline providing regular commercial passenger service out of the airport.

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

Southern Airways Express will replace SkyWest, which earlier this year announced its intention to stop serving the airport that is in Norton Shores.

Skywest, operating under the brand United Express, has been offering 14 flights per week between Muskegon and Chicago O’Hare on 50-seat turbofan planes, a variant of a jet plane.

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 into the national air transportation system, and we welcome business travelers and families from around the area to try Muskegon County Airport 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-per-week proposal will cost the federal government $3.9 million the first year with annual increases to $4.2 million the fourth year, the proposal shows.

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

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

“We believe there are many benefits to our service, including much more frequency,” Southern Airways Express Chief Commercial Officer Mark Cestari said in a prepared statement. “This allows passengers more choices (and) many more connecting 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 switch flights without having to reclaim baggage or check-in again.

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