Weekend summer traffic is a fact of life for the Outer Banks of North Carolina. You can’t avoid it. You can’t make it disappear.
Most regular visitors accept that there’s nothing they can do, so they just accept the slow progress along the roadways towards their final vacation destination.
But John Gordon isn’t most Outer Banks visitors.
Gordon is the founder of Ultimate Jet Charters, a corporate and private charter service based in Ohio—of which Ultimate Air Shuttle is a scheduled service division. The last time he got snagged in bumper-to-bumper beach congestion, he asked himself: Why sit in Outer Banks traffic when you can fly over it?
Great question, especially for someone with a fleet of corporate and commuter jets at his disposal. Eventually, Gordon brought the issue up to Larry Vickers, CEO of SouthStar Associates, an aviation consulting group.
Starting May 18, 2019, Ultimate Air Shuttle will offer seasonal flights to Currituck County Regional Airport (ONX), available every weekend through September 14, 2019.
“It’s always been an assumption that you can’t get to the Outer Banks unless you drive,” said Vickers. “Dealing with traffic congestion can add hours to your trip; but, it’s historically been the only option available.”
But, now there’s another way.
Seasonal Ultimate Air Shuttle flights are now available from many of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic markets which bring a majority of visitors to the Outer Banks beyond the regional visitors. Flights are scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays only between Pittsburgh, PA (PIT); Washington, D.C. (via Manassas, VA, (HEF)); and, New York City and Philadelphia (via Morristown, NJ (MMU) utilizing the Currituck County, NC, (ONX) airport as the local air transportation hub.
These markets and routes were selected by Ultimate Air Shuttle and SouthStar Associates by working closely with tourism organizations and property rental companies such as Twiddy & Company to determine areas with a heavy concentration of frequent Outer Banks visitors.
“Our focus has been to reach out first and foremost to those who have already made the decision to come to Currituck or the Outer Banks,” said Kevin Kirby, Chief Marketing Officer for Southstar. “We needed to determine whether or not this audience was interested in looking at a mode of transportation that was different and certainly quicker than the historic way in and out of the area.”
In addition to reaching out to markets in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Southstar and Ultimate Air Shuttle are coordinating with Twiddy to promote the air service to owners and renters of the company’s more than 1000 Outer Banks properties.
Because of the area’s summer traffic issues, Larry Vickers realized long ago that the Outer Banks was in need of some kind of airline service. Most airports in the Outer Banks are very limited in terms of runway length, which restricts the kind of air service they can provide.
Fortunately, Currituck has a runway long enough to accommodate the 30-passenger airplanes flown by Ultimate Air Shuttle. The company fleet currently includes the Embraer 135 Jet and the Dornier 328 Jet which will provide Saturday service. Sunday service will be provided by 19-passenger Jetstream 31’s.
Problem solved, right? Not quite.
Unless your final destination is the mainland, once you land at Currituck County Regional Airport, you still have the problem of weekend summer traffic from the Wright Memorial Bridge to destinations east including Corolla, Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Manteo, Hatteras and Ocracoke.
Remember, the Outer Banks spans roughly 130 miles from Virginia to Ocracoke, and that (mostly) one-road, one-lane stretch is traveled by tens of thousands of cars every day during the busy summer season.
That’s why Ultimate Air Shuttle is also partnering with Outer Banks Airlines.
Visitors arriving on weekend flights from Ultimate Air Shuttle will have the option of booking an additional private charter connection with Outer Banks Airlines from the Currituck airport to any one of the four private airports on the Outer Banks. The connecting flights let visitors take a short hop over any ground delays and puts them much closer to their final destination.
That helps extend the service all the way from Ultimate Air Shuttle’s cities of origin to Dare County Regional Airport (Manteo), Pine Island Airport (Corolla), First Flight Airstrip at Wright Brothers Memorial (Kill Devil Hills), Billy Mitchell Airport (Frisco/Hatteras) and Ocracoke Island Airport (Ocracoke).
While those behind the new seasonal air service are excited to fill seats and deliver weekly batches of summertime vacationers to Currituck County, they understand it’s only a first step.
“We’re looking at 19 to 30 seats per plane, providing two round-trip flights per weekend day,” Vickers said. “That’s just a small response compared to the total number coming to the Outer Banks in one weekend. It’s small, but it's a start.” Vickers added, “To further provide convenience and a more worry-free ease of travel, Enterprise Rent-A-Car will offer ground transportation rentals at both the Currituck County and Pine Island airports.”
Currituck County’s Economic Development Director is less concerned about the numbers than the momentum.
“I’m thrilled that Ultimate Air Shuttle has scheduled charter flights into Currituck’s ONX airport,” said Larry Lombardi. “Their decision reaffirms the understanding that our first-rate airport facilities are central to the future success and development of Currituck County.”
In addition to opening up new travel options for seasonal visitors, Lombardi hopes the service helps create a more convenient and robust destination for corporate air travel. It doesn’t matter if companies send people to scout potential business locations or plan a week-long corporate retreat, any arrival is a good arrival.
“Increasing traffic to the airport is almost always a win-win proposition,” Lombardi added. “Because nothing does a better job of promoting Currituck County than the county itself. When someone lands at ONX and steps out of the plane… there’s just something about this place that’s hard to resist.”
Seasonal flights from Ultimate Air Shuttle begin on May 18, 2019. Reservations can be made on their website: www.ultimateairshuttle.com. Or by calling 1-800-437-3931.