HISTORY OF AIRLINE SERVICE AT ROME, GEORGIA
Eastern Air Lines began scheduled passenger service to the northwest Georgia city of Rome on February 1, 1949. The arrival of a major airline to this relatively small town was quite an event and the first flight, operated with a Douglas DC-3, was met by a large crowd including city leaders, local dignitaries, and, judging from the tuba seen in the crowd in the above photo, a local brass band. The new service was duly noted in Eastern's 1949 annual report. Images from the Eastern Air Lines collection, Georgia State University.
First Commissioner John Yarbrough delivers a gift from the citizens of Rome to Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield in this Atlanta Constitution photo from the inaugural flight.
Eastern Air Lines route map from their April 27, 1958 timetable showing Rome as an intermediate stop between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Their December 1, 1958 timetable shows a single daily flight in each direction on an Atlanta -Rome -Chattanooga - Nashville - Louisville route, flown with Martin 404s.
Rome, Georgia was never a profitable stop for Eastern and a typical day saw less than a dozen passengers traveling through the airport. This detail from the 1959 edition of Airport Activity Statistic shows that Eastern boarded 2390 passengers on 704 flights at Rome during the entire year using a mix of Martin 404s and Convair 340s.
Southeastern Airlines included Rome as one of several quick stops on their Atlanta - Huntsville runs during 1963. This detail from the November 1963 Official Airline Guide shows daily 3 flights in each direction.
By 1966 Eastern was flying a single daily turnaround between Atlanta and Rome using Convair 440s. This image is from the 1966 Airline Maps of the United States courtesy of the amazing David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.
The Convair 440 was the final aircraft type that Eastern Air Lines operated at Rome. N9319 is pictured on the ramp at ATL in 1968, possibly waiting for the daily flight to RMG.
In 1969, Eastern Air Lines announced plans to retire the Convair 440 fleet by mid 1970. Since Rome's airport was too small to handle Eastern's larger aircraft (and because Eastern never made money at Rome), Georgia Air was chosen as the replacement airline effective August 1, 1969.
The following three images are from the collection of William White and were originally posted at timetableimages.com.
The October 15, 1971 Official Airline Guide shows 2 weekday round trips using twin Cessnas. Georgia Air stopped flying shortly after this, leaving Rome without air service.
Sunbelt Airlines entered the Rome - Atlanta market on July 24, 1979 with 4 scheduled round trips per day. The under-capitalized airline struggled from the beginning and within months, Rome airport officials were threatening to terminate Sunbelt's lease contract for delinquent payments. The airline also found itself in trouble with the federal government and Floyd County for unpaid back taxes. By early 1980, Sunbelt was flying a single-engine Cessna on the route when their contract with Floyd County and Rome airport specified that a twin-engine aircraft was to be used. To make matters worse, the FAA restricted the single-engine flights to daylight hours and only in clear weather, meaning that service was at the mercy of the weather and was sporadic at best. Flights were often cancelled for days at a time. Rome officials finally terminated the contract with Sunbelt and the airline closed its doors in March 1980.
Auburn, Alabama-based Southeastern Commuter Airlines (no relation to the Southeastern Airlines that flew to Rome in 1963) began service between Rome and Atlanta on September 15, 1980 using 10-passenger DeHavilland DH-104 Riley Doves.
Southeastern's timetable effective September 15, 1980 showing the initial Rome flight schedules.
A brochure I picked up at the ticket counter in Rome in Spring 1981.
The inside of the brochure features this diagram of the airport as it appeared in 1981.
Unfortunately, Southeastern Commuter Airlines fared no better than its predecessors at Rome, averaging one passenger per flight on the short 65 mile hops to and from Atlanta. By late 1981 the airline had opened service to Gadsden, Alabama and began flights over a circular Atlanta - Rome - Gadsden - Atlanta route in an effort to boost the number of passengers per flight. This meant that the block time on the one-stop flights between Rome and Atlanta was nearly an hour and a half, about the same amount time it would take to drive. As a result, passenger counts plummeted. The December 1, 1981 Official Airline Guide shows a combination of non-stop and direct flights between Rome and Atlanta.
Southeastern Commuter Airlines discontinued service to Rome, Georgia at the end of 1981 and remains the last airline to offer scheduled passenger flights to the city.