By Joey Gerardi
Breaking: Southern Airways Express Acquires Air Choice One
In a shocking turn of events, Palm Beach, Fla.-based Southern Airways Express announced it is acquiring St. Louis, Mo.-based Air Choice One. This announcement also comes less than a month after major EAS carrier SkyWest requested to terminate 29 Essential Air Service cities around the country on March 10. While the deal hasn’t officially been approved by the DOT, the airline believes it will not have any regulatory difficulty as the carriers do not overlap on any routes or in any cities.
In a press release provided by the Southern, the airline said the move will “strengthen the Essential Air Service offerings to the marketplace.”
Although the Air Choice One branding will be retired soon, the carrier’s operating certificate won’t be terminated any time soon and will continue to operate under Air Choice One’s airline code, 3E. The three cities that Air Choice One currently operates in will be rebranded as Southern Airways Express by mid-Summer.
In addition, passengers to those former Air Choice One cities will be able to take advantage of Southern’s ticketing and baggage agreements with Alaska, American and United Airlines around mid-summer as well. Air Choice One doesn’t have any interline or codeshare agreements. Current Air Choice One Chief Executive Officer Chane Storz will join the Southern Airways Express team as the Executive Vice President.
“This is yet another example of how Southern quickly adapts to the changing marketplace, Air Choice One has an incredibly positive reputation,” Southern Chairman and CEO Stan Little said in the statement. “So, combining their leadership team and assets into our company will allow us to quickly respond to the immediate need of providing affordable and reliable air service to more of rural America.”
This is the fifth airline Southern Airway Express has acquired in its short nine-year history.
Southern Airways Express was founded in 2013, and only a year later it acquired its first airline, Executive Express Aviation. With this acquisition, the airline gained an FAA charter certificate. In 2016, the company acquired Sun Air Express, which gave the carrier many of its currently operating EAS cities in the Northeast. With this merger, the company gained nine Piper PA-31 Navajos, which were soon retired in favor of Sun Air’s Cessna 208s, which are still with the airline.
In 2019, the company acquired Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines, which is still operating as a separate brand in the islands and is now a parent company of Southern Airways Express. Although the exact number is unclear, this merger gave the Southern a total of at least 15 Cessna 208’s that Mokulele now uses in its Hawaii operations.
The fourth merger happened in the early days of the pandemic — March 2020. Southern acquired another Hawaii-based airline, Makani Kai Air, merged its operations with the Mokulele’s Hawaii bases, and painted those aircraft into the Mokulele livery. The airline gained six Cessna 208’s from this deal, and it also took hold of a few King Air 300s and a single Piper PA-31. Both of the latter types have been retired since 2020.
This most recent acquisition will give Southern Airways Express 12 more Cessna 208s and two Beech-1900s. These additional Cessna 208’s will bring the total number of aircraft operating under Southern Airways Express up to nearly 50. The total fleet consists of three King Air 200s and two Saab340s, while the remaining nearly 45 aircraft are all Cessna-208s. The airline mentioned that the Air Choice One’s B1900 may stick around for a few weeks, but with the new Saab340 at Southern, the B1900 is not part of the airline’s long-range plan.
This will also bring the number of destinations served by the carrier up to 41 cities and with 222 peak day departures. The airline will only be gaining three new destinations — St. Louis, Nashville, and Jonesboro, Ark. the latter of which is an EAS city — and two routes from Air Choice One.
The airline’s destinations will stretch from Nantucket in the northeast to Honolulu in the southwest. The airline operates hubs in Dallas, Denver, Honolulu, Kahului, Los Angeles, Memphis, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. This number also includes flights under seaplane airline Tailwind, which operates a hub in Manhattan and partners with Southern Airways Express on the routes.
Despite the large number of destinations it operates and the complexity of its network, the airline has consistently been ranked as one of the most reliable and on-time airlines in the country, completing 99.3% of its nearly 64,000 annual flights on time, excluding issues due to weather.
While the airline said it cannot disclose its strategy prior to the EAS bid deadline, the company did tell AirlineGeeks that, regarding the 29 EAS communities SkyWest to which has announced it will terminate service, “It is highly likely that Southern will bid on a majority of these cities.”