HISTORY OF AIRLINE SERVICE AT DEKALB - PEACHTREE AIRPORT (PDK)
Atlanta's DeKalb - Peachtree Airport, better known to locals as PDK, is Georgia's second busiest airport ranked by aircraft movements. While it is was constructed as a military field and is now almost exclusively a general aviation airport, at least four commuter airlines have provided passenger service at PDK since the early 1960s. We'll explore the little-known airline history of this busy urban airport.
Southeastern Airlines operated passenger flights at PDK during 1963 using 4-passenger Piper Apaches along an Atlanta to Spartanburg route. The November 1963 Official Airline Guide shows a total of 4 flights a day, 2 in each direction. The airline was short-lived and flights ended by early 1964. It is likely that most of the destinations shown here were treated as "flag-stops", meaning that stops were made only when passengers were waiting. These short flight times would have been close to impossible to maintain. Thanks to David Stringer for sending this.
Phoenix Airlines began service at PDK on April 8, 1980 with 2 daily non stops to Savannah, continuing on to St. Simons Island and Jacksonville. The airline hoped to establish a commuter hub at PDK with service to cities within 250 miles of Atlanta as a way for travelers to avoid the hassles and lengthy delays at Hartsfield International. Unfortunately, a lack of demand forced the airline to close down after only a few months.
Phoenix Airlines' sole aircraft was this classic 1955-vintage 16-passenger De Havilland DH-114 Heron, N507FW, pictured on the PDK ramp in 1980.
Phoenix Airlines route map effective April 8, 1980.
Morning and afternoon flights were flown from PDK to Savannah, St. Simons and Jacksonville.
This is unedited (or unused) footage from a WSB-TV news segment on Phoenix Airlines and the use of DeKalb - Peachtree as an alternative to Atlanta Hartsfield International. From the Brown Media Archives.
Within months of Phoenix Airlines' failed attempt to establish passenger service, Tennessee Airways began flights between PDK and Knoxville on December 1, 1980 using Cessna 402s.
Daily morning and afternoon flights were operated between PDK and Knoxville with connecting flights to Nashville and Tri-City airport. Like Phoenix Airlines a few months earlier, Tennessee Airways found that trying to establish an alternative to Hartsfield was a daunting task and flights ended within a few months.
It would be 33 years before another airline would bring commuter passenger service to DeKalb - Peachtree Airport. Southern Airways Express began scheduled charter service from PDK to Birmingham, Memphis, Oxford, Destin and Panama City on September 9, 2013. While Phoenix Airlines and Tennessee Airways flights at PDK went relatively unnoticed in 1980, 3 decades later there were several powerful anti-airport "watchdog" groups that were intent on banning all commercial air carriers from using DeKalb - Peachtree. In order to circumnavigate restrictions on airline operations at the smaller airports they served, including PDK, Southern Airways Express sold tickets as a Part 380 public charter provider while scheduled flights were operated by Southern Airways Charter under Part 135 regulations. The limitations on Part 135 operators are: no jets, no more than 4 round trips per week per destination, no more than 9 seats and maximum aircraft payload of 7,500 pounds. Since Southern Airways Express met all of these requirements, the airline could not be denied access to PDK.
Southern Airways Express' service at DeKalb - Peachtree, with an emphasis on low frequency flights to secondary airports, was geared towards leisure travelers and students who had flexible schedules and preferred to avoid large commercial airports. The September 9, 2013 timetable shows 15 weekly departures from PDK.
All Southern Airways Express flights were operated with 9-seat Cessna Caravans. N807JA is seen departing DeKalb - Peachtree on April 9, 2016. Photo taken by Flickr photographer Chris Chennell.
Most of Southern Airways Express' initial routes from PDK were quickly dropped and by Spring 2016 only flights to Destin and Memphis (switched from Olive Branch Airport to Memphis International) remained.
By July 2018, SAE was no longer flying to PDK although Atlanta was still shown as a seasonal destination. From late 2018 through 2019, their route map showed an Atlanta - Memphis route with "start date to be announced". By early 2020, Atlanta was no longer featured on the map. Scheduled passenger flights at PDK had once again come to an end.