EL DORADO -- Southern Airways Express is on schedule to make its first flight out of Goodwin Field on May 1, officials said.
The Mississippi-based airline will provide service to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, with three daily flights Monday-Friday, one flight on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Southern Airways provides scheduled regional air service to more than 20 cities in the Gulf and Mid-Atlantic regions, flying its fleet of nine-seat planes.
"We really need a commitment from community leaders and businesses who fly to do business," Airport Manager Tim Johnson said. "We need to do everything we can to encourage people to use what we haven't had for the last several months."
El Dorado -- home to firms such as Murphy Oil and about 18,000 residents in south Arkansas -- has been without an air service carrier since September 2016 when former commercial provider SeaPort Airlines stopped operations after a bankruptcy filing.
Months later, Southern Airways was awarded a bid by the U.S. Department of Transportation for a subsidy to provide air service for several routes, including El Dorado, that were vacated by SeaPort.
The contract, awarded in December 2016, took effect Jan. 1.
There was a delay in Southern's plans to launch in El Dorado, as community leaders appealed the federal transportation agency's decision in favor of their preference, Contour Airlines.
The transportation agency denied the appeal.
Community leaders have since pledged to throw their full support behind Southern to help make the airline a success in El Dorado.
In turn, airline representatives have said they understand the importance of reliability and are working with the community to make it a top priority.
Mark Cestari, executive vice-president of business development for Southern, visited El Dorado in March and told community leaders that Southern pilots and airplanes will remain in the city overnight, adding that some pilots will live in El Dorado to better serve the community.
As the city gears up for a new airline, airport commissioners are working to improve the terminal building where the airline service will be based.
Commissioners are continuing their search for available funding to either carry out a master renovation plan for the terminal or, in the short-term, repair the roof of the terminal building before winter comes.
Last month, commissioners got their first look at a revised conceptual design for the renovation project, with a preliminary budget estimate of $2.1 million.
Discussions have been ongoing for months about the poor condition of the roof, and last week, Blake Roberson, of Garver Engineers, the commission's engineering firm, cautioned commissioners at a recent meeting that if the roof isn't addressed before winter, it will deteriorate even further.
Moreover, the commission needs to find funding in time to start the roof project before prime construction weather ends this year.
State Desk on 04/21/2017