Just before noon on June 15 1971, local history was made.  Two twin-engine Beech Air South aircraft filled with county, state and airline officials arrived at the Laurens County airport. Although many fortune-seeking entrepreneurs had tried and failed, for the first time ever a regional airline was scheduling flights in and out of Dublin and twice a day to boot.

The effort to establish airline service came in the spring of 1971 through the cooperative effort of the Dublin-Laurens Chamber of Commerce and the Laurens County Commissioners along with their counterparts in Statesboro and Bulloch County.  With the financial aid of Georgia’s trade and industrial commissions and Georgia’s governor, the necessary changes were made to extend the runway’s landing lights to 4,000 feet, cut trees along the approaches and adjust the slope of the runway, along with a local $10,000.00 allocation.

Air South began operations in 1969 with flights between Waycross, Albany and Brunswick. Once the necessary approvals were made, the Laurens County commissioners hired Cecil Willis as operations manager  and Richard Hurd as ticket manager and weather agent  to manage the local operation.  For Willis and Hurd, one of their first tasks was to learn how to operate the National Weather Service station at the airport.  The new equipment aided the Air South pilots as well as other local pilots.  Willis and Hurd reported daily to the Macon bureau the local weather information.

Just after eleven o’clock on the morning of June 15, the occupants of the two planes deplaned in view of a large crowd of eyewitnesses to history.  Many came to see the planes while others came to see Georgia’s newly inaugurated governor.  Little did the gathering know that within six years, their governor, Jimmy Carter, would become the President of the United States.

Gov. Carter, (left)  who was all smiles that late spring day,  outlined how the coming of Air South to Dublin and Statesboro became a reality.

Chamber of Commerce Chairman, Ed Herrin, acted as the master of ceremonies along with the charming help of Dublin’s eternally affable mayor, Lester Porter. County Commissioner H.D. Hobbs welcomed the crowd before Mayor Porter introduced Governor Carter.  Air South President F.E. Howe offer his company’s gratitude and honor for being chosen as the carrier between the three city route.

Flying with Governor Carter and his staff in the lead plane were commissioners H.D. Hobbs, Robert Beacham and J.B. Fordham, Chamber President Herrin, and County Attorney H. Dale Thompson, a former naval pilot in World War II.

Porter presented Air South President Howe with the mayor’s patented Dublin keepsake a shillelagh. The Heart of Georgia Commission presented Governor Carter and each official a potted chrysanthemum.

L-R - Laurens County Attorney, H. Dale Thompson, Commissioner Robert Beacham,
Air South President Pete Howe, Commissioner J.B. Fordham, Gov. Jimmy Carter,
Commissioner H.D. Hobbs, Mayor Lester Porter, Chamber President, Ed Herrin,
and Fred Steele Federal Rep. Coastal Plains Regional Commission.  

After the ceremony, the governor, airline officials and a host of Bulloch County boosters climbed aboard the planes, which took off to the east for a similar ceremony in their Statesboro.

Crowd awaiting arrival of inaugural Air South flight. 

Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter

County Commissioners - Robert Beacham, H.D. Hobbs and J.B. Fordham 

Cecil Passmore and Gov. Jimmy Carter

Air South Plane in Atlanta

Dublin Mayor - Lester Porter

All of Dublin was excited as merchants welcomed Air South to Dublin in newspaper ads.  The airline hoped to entice couples to leave Dublin on Saturday morning, stay at any of the eight Mark Inns in the Atlanta area, and return on Sunday evening for the unbelievably low price of less than $78.00.

Each morning the flights would begin in Statesboro at 7:30 a.m for the 20-minute trip to Dublin.  After a 15-minute layover, passengers departed Dublin at 8:05 and arrived some 35 minutes later at the Atlanta Airport.   The return flight left Atlanta at 10:30 and arrived in Dublin at 11:05 and landed back to Statesboro before 11:30.  The flight schedule would allow a Dublin resident to leave Dublin at 8:05, pick up a relative or business client and be back in Dublin in three hours. A second flight out of Dublin left for Atlanta at 12:30 p.m..

Ten Dollars would buy you a ticket to Statesboro, not a bad dealing considering there was no Interstate Highway 16 open in the early days.  For $18.50 a Dubliner could fly to the Atlanta Airport and avoid the even then hectic Atlanta traffic.

By the end of 1971, Air South added evening flight 172 which arrived from Brunswick at 8:15 p.m,  left Dublin at 8:30 p.m. and arrived in Atlanta 40 minutes later.  The new flight was added to alleviate the morning Flight 412 which was frequently plagued by foggy morning conditions.  With the new flight, other changes were made in the timing of the other flights on the schedule.

Shortly after air service was initiated in Dublin, the directors of Air South elected a new president, Bartlett M. Shaw, a veteran executive with Scandanavian Airlines.  Eventually the company would move from Atlanta to Saint Simons Island, Shaw’s home, for economic reasons.

Passenger traffic aboard Air South planes continued to soar in the next year.  June 1972 was a company record for passengers.  In the first year,  overall traffic increased by 25 percent.

The news of increased passenger levels was made even better by the announcement that on June 1, 1972, service to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina would be added.  During the summer of 1972, passenger levels continued to rise.

In the early autumn of 1972, Air South staged a promotional tour among the cities it served. Dublin businessmen Thomas Curry, Louie Livingston and Mayor Lester Porter traveled aboard a 44- passenger British turbo prop as it toured across the state.

One of the most famous passengers aboard an Air South flight arrived in Dublin on March 9, 1973 in time for the annual St. Patrick’s Festival that year.  Eileen Fulton, (left)  who starred in the legendary role of “Lisa” on the soap opera, “As The World Turns,” landed in town before a large
crowd of admirers.

At the end of its second year, June 1973 was once again an all time monthly record for the airlines.  Air South officials began to look at buying newer and better aircraft to meet the demands of their passengers.

After three years, the airline was still setting records.  Beaufort, South Carolina was added in 1974 bringing the June total to 9,351.

As good as the numbers were, the number of passengers flying on the Statesboro-Dublin legs of the flight were dropping to an economically unsustainable level.

Just before Christmas, the board of Air South voted to terminate the flights to Dublin.  The last plane  left Dublin on December 28, 1974.

In the future, passenger service may return to Dublin.  But for now, we have to turn on our memories of those days when you could leave Dublin on a prop plane, complete your business in Atlanta, and return home, just in time for a late supper with your family


Zeus said…
Scott, thank you for this great article! I run the website Sunshine Skies which is about the history of small airlines of Georgia and Florida including Air South. (A couple of my timetables appear in your article, so I presume you've seen it.) I'm working on pages about the history of airline service to Georgia communities such as Dublin, Statesboro, Tifton, etc and wanted to see if I may include a few of your photos.

Keep up the great work!

David Henderson