New jet service offers improvements over turboprops that served Hilton Head Airport
With the roar of twin engines and much fanfare, Hilton Head Airport entered the jet age Thursday as it welcomed its first regularly scheduled commercial jet flight.
A large crowd of officials, guests and media — and two fire trucks spraying arcs of water — were on hand to welcome American Eagle Flight 4529 as it arrived at the terminal shortly before 10 a.m. As it glided to a halt, the plane passed beneath the arcs and stopped near the terminal.
The new jet — an Embraer ERJ-175 — is replacing the venerable Bombardier Dash-8 turboprops that have long served the island's airport and which are being retired by American Eagle. The new jet seats 76 passengers.
Three daily departures and arrivals a day to and from Charlotte are scheduled. Officials hope the arrival of jet service, made possible by the lengthening of the airport runway to 5,000 feet, means that more flights and destinations will follow.
"This airport has always been an economic engine to our island and our county," said Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville in remarks just after the jet's arrival, "but it just got some steroids today."
He predicted that jet service would only increase the airport's economic impact, while improving the experience for travelers.
"This is going to make it all that much more possible for people to easily get in and easily get out," he said.
Beaufort County Airports Director John Rembold said he hopes the airport's new jet capabilities will result in more destinations for air travelers as other airlines enter the Hilton Head market.
Michelle Levett-Penn, of Chester, Va., and her daughter, Shiara Penn, of Bowie, Md., were two passengers on the first flight. They said they weren't aware when they boarded that they were on the first commercial jet to land at the airport, and were surprised by the hoopla. Levett-Penn described the jet flight as being very pleasant.
"It was smooth," she said.
"It's exciting," said Kelly Davis-Collins, Hilton Head Airport's general manager for American Airlines, who has been coming to Hilton Head since the '70s and moved to the island six years ago.
"I thought I'd never see jet service here in my lifetime."