John Swasey, president of Exec Air of Naples, poses for a portrait at the Naples Municipal Airport in Naples, Florida, on January 23, 2017.Exec Air is spreading its wings at Naples Municipal Airport.
The airline, which has operated a charter service at the city's airport for about 20 years, recently added scheduled flights to Marathon and Key West.
Over the years Exec Air's owner John Swasey said he often got calls asking about departure times for the Keys, so he decided to start offering regular service, in addition to his on-demand charters.
The scheduled service started Jan. 1, with no fanfare. It has been slow to take off, with no advertising.
"We've had some flights, but the general public has not received the word that we are doing it yet," Swasey said.
Scheduled flights are offered daily on a six-passenger Cessna 207 or a three-passenger Cessna 182.
Round-trip flights from Naples to Key West run $400 per passenger. A one-way ticket is $275.
In comparison, a charter flight from Naples to Key West would cost more than $1,100 on the three-passenger plane and almost double that on the six-passenger one, Swasey said.
"A charter is like a taxi," he said. "You are renting the whole airplane if you want it or not. So it's much more expensive, whereas with a scheduled service you are buying a seat, one seat on an aircraft."
For the past five years, Exec Air has offered scheduled service between Naples and Miami. It's available four days a week. Though the service hasn't done as well as expected, Swasey said "it's not where I would pull the plug on it."
"We're not getting rich off of it," he said. "Part of it is people don't know it's available. The other part is there are those people who won't fly on a single-engine airplane. I don't understand it because it's a lot safer than twin-engine jets or driving."
As a commercial operator, Exec Air is held to high standards when it comes to the condition of its planes, Swasey said. "There's a higher level of safety."
With the start of scheduled service to the Keys, the airline has introduced a coupon book for passengers, who use it often, which will give them discounts on flights.
"We have a lot of business people here in Naples that do business in Key West or have a business in Key West, and that is part of the reason we did what I call a frequent flier coupon book," Swasey said.
The airline will soon add a third plane to its fleet, a Cessna 310 twin-engine aircraft that can seat five passengers, which will help support its expanded service. Swasey also plans to hire more pilots. There are three pilots, including himself, and he hopes to have as many as eight.
At Southwest Florida International Airport, several airlines offer flights to Key West, but Swasey said there are benefits to using his service, including no airport parking fees and faster check-ins. Security delays are "almost nonexistent," he said.
"It's one of the few scheduled services where you can actually meet the pilot," Swasey said.
While there are several charter flight operators based at the Naples airport, there's only one other commercial airline offering scheduled flights.
Elite Airways offers direct flights to and from Portland, Maine, and Melbourne, Florida. After a stop in Melbourne, passengers can continue on to Long Island, New York.
Chris Rozansky, Naples Airport's executive director, said he expects Exec Air's scheduled service to the Keys to be successful.
"Clearly any time we can facilitate better air transportation around the region it's beneficial for the community," he said.
Rozansky said he hopes Exec Air and other airlines will add more scheduled service at the airport to more destinations.
Swasey isn't ready to think about that yet. He's said he's focused on growing the demand for the regular flights he already offers to and from the Keys and Miami.