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  1. Business

Airline to offer direct flights from Tampa to Destin

TAMPA — There's a new way for Tampa Bay residents to get to the Florida Panhandle.

Southern Airways Express said Tuesday it will launch weekend air service between Tampa International Airport and Destin Executive Airport starting on Friday, making it the only airline to offer a direct flight between the two cities.

Flights will be offered with one departure going both ways on Fridays and Sundays. Tickets are on sale now, with round trips throughout the summer costing $400, the airline's website shows.

Southern Airways operates from the Signature Flight Support Terminal at TIA, meaning passengers can park for free, have quicker check-in times and no TSA screening — a similar experience to that of passengers who fly privately or by executive charter.

The Mississippi-based airline operates a fleet of two dozen prop planes, including the Cessna Caravan and Grand Caravan.

Southern Airways first began operating out of Tampa in November with daily flights to West Palm Beach. The success of that route is what prompted it to expand its service from Tampa to farther north in the state, according to CEO Stan Little.

"In looking at additional routes, it was evident that this much-needed connection between Central Florida and the Panhandle would be our next expansion," Little said in a release.

The flights from Tampa will arrive at Destin Executive Airport, which is less than three miles from the city's famous beaches.

Before Southern Airways' announcement, Tampa Bay residents looking to fly to Destin would have had to have a layover in Atlanta for a similar price on Delta or flown Silver Airways out of Orlando International for a $200 round trip.

The Southern Express flights from Tampa to Destin will depart every Friday at 5:45 p.m. and land in Destin at 7:15 p.m., while the return flight on Sundays will depart at 1:10 p.m. and arrive in Tampa at 4:05 p.m.

The added route is just the latest expansion for Southern Airways, which is now the largest commuter carrier in the U.S. after it purchased Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines in February. The airline, which began with a fleet of three planes and six pilots less than five years ago, now operates more than 1,300 weekly flights and has completed more than 99% of its scheduled flights in the last six months.

Contact Josh Fiallo at Follow @ByJoshFiallo.