DESTIN — Southern Airways is promoting its new weekend service between Destin and Tampa, with an option to travel on to Palm Beach, by noting travelers will have "no TSA screening hassles."
That's not to say, though, that passengers boarding the airline's Cessna Caravan turboprop planes at Destin Executive Airport don't get some scrutiny, and won't potentially be subject to additional precautions prior to takeoff.
"For many of the flights we operate, we are not required to put passengers through the hassles of TSA security," said Keith Sisson, chief marketing officer for Southern Airways. But, he added, "All of our passengers are electronically pre-screened." That screening, Sisson said, involves checking passenger names against the names appearing on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's No Fly List,which contains ID information for known or suspected terrorist, he explained.
"And," Sisson added, "our crews reserve the right to do discretionary inspections, pursuant to our security procedures."
Security issues haven't been a problem for Southern Airways, according to Sisson, who said, "In over five years of serving dozens of airports across the U.S., we have a perfect security record."
In addition to the new service from Destin to Tampa and on to Palm Beach, Southern Airways offers service between Destin and Memphis and on to Nashville. Previously, Southern Airways had offered service from Destin to New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta and Jackson, Mississippi, but halted those routes due to cost considerations at Destin Executive, Sisson said.
The reason that Southern Airways passengers avoid the Transportation Security Administration's luggage and personal screening protocols is that the airline operates under Part 135 of the Code of Federal Regulations, rather than Part 121 of those regulations, which covers more traditional scheduled commercial airline operations.
Under Part 135, an airline can offer either on-demand service, or limited commuter service, and can offer that service only on certain types of aircraft, with limited seating. Under Part 135, on-demand seating is limited to 30 passengers, while commuter service is limited to nine-passenger aircraft.
Also, Part 135 states only that airlines operating under its provisions "may be required to adopt and implement a Transportation Security Administration (TSA)-approved security program."
Such programs, according to the language of Part 135, are based on factors that can include the "kind of operations conducted, ... aircraft seating capacity, and whether or not they will enplane or deplane passengers within a sterile area of an airport." "Sterile areas" are areas, defined in individual airport security plans, where access to aircraft is controlled by either the TSA, an aircraft operator, or a foreign air carrier.
Like other services of its type, the Southern Airways flights begin and end not in regular terminal areas, but at fixed-base operators (FBOs). FBOs are aviation services businesses granted the right to operate at a given airport. At Destin Executive, the fixed-base operator is Lynx FBO Destin, and at Tampa international Airport, Southern Airways uses the Signature Flight Support FBO's terminal. Passengers departing or arriving at Palm Beach International Airport use the services of another FBO, Atlantic Aviation.
The new Southern Airways service between Destin and Tampa and on to Orlando operates in both directions on Fridays and Sundays, "so it can make for a quick weekend trip, or a five-day, seven-day or even a much longer duration (time away) from Destin," Sisson said. A Monday check of the Southern Airways website for a Friday flight to Tampa and a Sunday return flight to Destin produced a price of $298 each way.