Ceremony marks Silver Airways' arrival at Gainesville airport

Guests watch as a Saab 340Bplus aircraft taxis to the hanger during a press conference to announce Silver Airways as a new general aviation tenant at the Gainesville Regional Airport on Friday. The company will move into its new facility during the first quarter of 2012.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 20, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

Gainesville's newest air carrier arrived in style Friday afternoon with Silver Airways CEO Darrell Richardson doing a fly-by in a Saab 340Bplus turboprop acquired just hours earlier, buzzing by a crowd of local dignitaries gathered in Silver's new maintenance hangar at Gainesville Regional Airport.

After circling back around, the plane landed and approached the hangar through a customary water salute with two airport fire trucks spraying an arc of water from both sides of the plane.

Silver Airways announced Thursday that it is moving its maintenance facility to Gainesville from Fort Lauderdale and will be offering regional service linking Gainesville to other Florida destinations and beyond through its partnership with United Airlines.

In addition to providing new routes to Gainesville travelers and jobs at the maintenance facility, Silver Airways fills a need for the airport to lease the former Eclipse Aviation hangar that has been empty since the former New Mexico-based jet manufacturer closed the maintenance facility before going bankrupt in 2009.

An announcement is imminent about which routes the company will fly in and out of Gainesville, said Matthew Holliday, vice president of marketing and sales. They will include arriving flights on planes due for maintenance at the hangar.

Richardson said Orlando is one likely connection.

Silver's current Florida destinations are Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, Tallahassee, Tampa and West Palm Beach, but could one day include others in addition to Gainesville, Holliday said.

Silver is moving maintenance from Fort Lauderdale because its facility there is scheduled for demolition in April to make way for a runway expansion.

Richardson said the Gainesville facility will initially have 65 employees. That number may grow to 100, he said. Fort Lauderdale maintenance employees will get the first shot on the jobs, after which, Richardson said, they will hire "as many local people as we can find."

Spokesman Steve Bennett said the pay scale has yet to be determined but will be competitive.

Gainesville was competing with several cities for the maintenance but was the only one with an immediately available facility, Richardson said.

Construction of the nearly $10 million facility completed in 2007 was funded by state grants and bonds from the airport to lure Eclipse, but questions arose before it even opened about the company's ability to deliver jets on schedule. The company was out of business by 2009, as was the taxi service DayJet, one of its customers, which operated out of Gainesville.

Mitch Glaeser, of Glaeser Realty, representing the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Council for Economic Outreach at the ceremony, said the facility proved to be an asset that other communities wish they had.

"Unfortunately, for a brief time this was seen as a dark cloud hanging over our community, but like with every dark cloud there is a silver lining," he said. "The silver lining in this story of course is Silver Airways."

Silver flies 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D and 34-seat Saab 340Bplus turboprops with engines painted a deep fuchsia.

"Don't call it pink," Holliday said.

Richardson said the Saabs are 10 decibels quieter than other planes in the cabin and more fuel-efficient. He added that the airline's headquarters will remain in Fort Lauderdale because of their service to the Bahamas as the airline with the most flights to the islands.

Airport CEO Allan Penksa said the airport offered its standard incentives for a new carrier — no landing fees and free rent in the terminal for up to two years. He said the value of the incentives will depend on the number of flights and the final agreement on terminal space.

In addition to Florida and the Bahamas, Silver offers regional service in Montana, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The airline is owned by Chicago investment firm Victory Park Capital, which purchased some of the assets of Gulfstream International Airlines after its bankruptcy in November 2010. The new company started in May under the Gulfstream name before changing to Silver Airways in December.

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