Silver Airways has big plans for growth in and beyond Tampa

Screen shot 2016-06-01 at 8.31.18 AMSilver Airways became the only air carrier to offer nonstop flights from Tampa to Nassau last week.

And they’re just getting started.

Silver Airways CEO Sami Teittinen said the Fort Lauderdale-based discount airliner is pushing forward on major expansion plans over the next year. The airliner, which considers Tampa one of its main hubs, wants to be a regular airline option in Cuba. The company wants to expand beyond Florida and the Bahamas and be a top contender for quick flights in the Southeast.

Right now Silver Airways operates more routes in Florida and between the Sunshine State and the Bahamas than any other airline. The company offers more than 120 daily flights to 26 destinations on a fleet of 22 Saab 340B Plus turboprop aircraft that seat 34.

Silver Airways was born from the ashes of Gulfstream International Airlines, a small South Florida company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2010. The company was bought by a hedge fund and rebranded as Silver the next year.

Teittinen was in Tampa on Thursday to celebrate the new daily flight to Nassau from Tampa International Airport, where he spoke with the Times.

♦ Why did Silver Airways want to offer nonstop service to Nassau from Tampa?

We focus on providing safe air travel at affordable fares. We looked at Tampa and saw that there were a lot of destinations that just weren’t being served today. Nassau was one of them. Well, we used to service Nassau from Tampa when we were still Gulfstream International Airlines, but it’s been a while since then and we wanted to bring that service back.

We already serve seven different destinations in the Bahamas so this seemed like a natural extension. No one wants to have to connect in Miami or Fort Lauderdale if you don’t have to.

♦ Silver Airways has been vying to be one of the airlines that will offer flights to Cuba. Can you tell me more about that?

Our growth plan is going in two directions. The first is to offer flights to 10 different destinations in Cuba. It is a lot but there are 10 international airports in Cuba. As the market is opening, the plan is to be there. Right now we’re waiting to see if our plans will be accepted.

♦ So what’s the other direction for growth?

We want to serve more destinations in the southern Caribbean and more states surrounding Florida. You’ll start to hear more announcements about that in the next 12 to 18 months. That includes newer aircraft, too.

♦ How does Tampa International Airport compare to other parts of Florida, like Fort Lauderdale, where you’re based?

Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are our key hubs. It’s easy for us to serve more traffic in Tampa for that reason. It’s a very convenient airport and we’re very excited to be here during its expansion. It will be very nice. The airport has been very supportive of our growth plans, too. Everything in Tampa has been very easy.

When we first started looking at Tampa, we noticed that there are opportunities to offer flights that are not being served today. That’s mostly because of airline consolidation over the years. Orlando, too, is experiencing that. But it’s great for us.

♦ Tell me more about Silver Airways, for our readers who might not be familiar with your name.

We’re a full-service airline known for providing ultrashort flights. The average flight time is an hour and 10 minutes, though most of our flights are really an hour or less. We fly 34-seat aircraft today but plan to expand that. We’re known for our fair price point and nonstop service. We have arrangements with United Airlines and JetBlue, so travelers are able to accumulate points for those programs when they fly with us. We don’t offer our own loyalty program. We offer nonstop service almost everywhere in Florida and the Bahamas, and soon beyond that.

Justine Griffin, Tampa Bay Times

May 30, 2016

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