The news was not good for Silver Airways last week. A dispute over unpaid bills in Fort Lauderdale spilled the carriers troubles into the public spotlight. Whether this is the end of Silver or not, I have no idea. But I figured this would be a good opportunity to look at the impact of a Silver disappearance, were it to happen.
According to the Fort Lauderdale airport, Silver owed the airport back-rent of nearly $1 million as of December. This appears to be after the airport seized Silver’s $113,000 security deposit to pay down part of the debt, but that’s obviously not enough and now FLL is moving to evict the airline.
This may not be a big deal since FLL is apparently now just a seaport. But assuming FLL does eventually return to being above sea level, it would be a loss for Silver to go away, even though it’s not a huge chunk of capacity. Silver serves many markets that others do not.
Here’s a look at Silver’s Florida network from March that it flew with ATR turboprops. (There’s another part of the network that’s San Juan-based, the old Seaborne that Silver acquired five years ago, but I won’t look at that today.)
Silver has tried to expand its network to go beyond Florida, but ultimately the real value of Silver’s existence is the intra-Florida and Bahamas flying. Of the 28 city pairs Silver served in March, 17 are served only by Silver. Those are the ones in pink above.
While there are some routes that fly intra-Florida, the real pain of a Silver failure would be felt in the Bahamas. As the article notes, there is already some trepidation about what would happen there. The only route with competition today from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas is over to Freeport where Bahamasair also flies. Of course, it’s important to remember that just because there wouldn’t be any airline on these specific routes, there would be alternatives.
All of the Bahamas routes are served at least by American from Miami — sometimes by others as well — with the exception of Governor’s Harbour and Bimini which would lose their only air links to the US. That assumes, of course, that others don’t step in.
You can already see Silver’s network being touched by others. The big intra-Florida routes (orange) connecting Fort Lauderdale to Orlando and Tampa are already served by both Southwest and Spirit. The same goes for New Orleans – Tampa. And Spirit alone (yellow) flies Orlando – Pensacola for some reason.
JetBlue has bit around the edges with Fort Lauderdale – Charleston and Jacksonville, but remember it is also starting Fort Lauderdale – Tallahassee next year as part of its efforts to woo Florida into supporting its acquisition of Spirit. I imagine it could be strong-armed into more additions if the state really cared.
As if that’s not enough, we can’t forget about Breeze which in March, at least, flew four markets (light blue) operated by Silver from Charleston to both Orlando and Tampa as well as from Orlando to Huntsville and Jacksonville to New Orleans. Breeze moves around a lot, so it probably serves more or less on any given day. But you get the point.
Were Silver to go away, I’d imagine airlines like Southern Airways Express would be thrilled to go into some of these markets on the low end. The Part 135 operation they’d operate with 9-seaters would be much easier to staff. I can imagine Breeze rolling into some other markets while Bahamasair might put some ATRs to fill the void as well.
None of this is to say that Silver’s days are done, but not paying rent to your home airport for as long as it’s been… it’s not a great sign. At the very least, it’s worth pondering possible scenarios.
Given Breeze’s pull backs on other routes, how realistic would it be to expect Breeze to take on new routes if Silver goes bust or pulls out of some routes?
To be clear, I firmly and solidly root for “underdog” small airlines like Breeze & Silver, though I have yet to get the chance to fly either of them.
However, at the risk of being a little pessimistic.. It sounds like both Breeze and Silver may be living on borrowed time, and I’m not sure that I’d be comfortable making travel plans that depend on either airline (even with the protections provided by paying with a credit card), lest I be stranded.
Breeze seems to be in a much better situation than Silver. They run a lot of sports and other charters in addition to scheduled commercial flying.
Not paying rent to your hub airport though is very concerning. Especially considering they are PE owned by a firm that “focuses on control investments in distressed, buyouts, divestitures, restructurings & turnarounds, and reorganizations & liquidations in middle-market companies based in North America.”
MX operated at a roughly -100% margin last year and they can’t seem to make any routes work. Their clock is ticking too.
Yeah that’s a BAD number
There are a number of primarily charter airlines based at various GA airports in southern Florida (FXE and others) that appear to have scheduled service to various points in the Bahamas. How much service are they providing now, and could they serve as a viable alternative if Silver were to disappear or otherwise stop serving the Bahamas routes?
Is there a significant cargo component to the FLL flights to the smaller islands that makes the ATR viable which could not be replaced by 9 or 19 seaters? Because I can’t imagine they’re putting anywhere near 70 bodies on many (most?) of those flights.
Ps – welcome back, hope you enjoyed a well deserved and relatively distraction free vacay! Look forward to the trip reports :-)
Cargo is a big money maker on those routes. From what I understand, it’s often cheaper for the Bahamians to buy goods in the States and fly them back instead of buying them within the Bahamas (something around those lines). It’s also a big reason why AA sent nothing but ATR’s to/from the Bahamas & their MIA hub along with their SJU hub operation back in the day.
I have flown Silver on a number of occasions over the years. They were fine, no issues for me.
I think when they were focused on flying smaller planes intra-Florida and to the islands, it worked decently. However, in an age where pilots are very hard to come by, and they were trying to diversify out of that, they are struggling. It’s a shame, because it seems like there is less room for niche players than there was in the past. It’s either giant legacy airlines or ULCCs, and that’s it.
As George Carlin observed in one of his earliest routines (The Hippy Dippy Weatherman), “Behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud.”
Jerry Garcia said the same thing…every silver lining has a touch of gray…
I’ve flown Silver and its various precursors a good bit, being based in TLH. Not too long ago it was Gulfstream Airlines, with no bathroom, 19-seater Beach-1900’s. Getting to FLL from TLH was legit over 2 hours and the gate agents and pilots had some good stories about things that occurred on that route as a result of there being no lav. Still, I liked the 1-1 configuration and being able to see through the cockpit windshield from your passenger seat.
They became Silver and took some of the former Mesaba/Northwest Airlink Saab SF 340’s. Bigger, had an FA, a lav, and 34 seats in a 1-2 config. Those engines were really loud, though. Brain-rattlingly loud depending on where you sat.
Today, these -600 series ATR’s are really quite nice. Surprisingly quiet, surprisingly spacious overhead bins, and makes it to FLL in about an hour and a half. Plus there’s something cool about boarding from the tarmac at the back of the plane. I have to say service has always been very friendly, though they frequently struggle with punctuality.
Silver’s presence has been an important source of relief from AA charging crazy-high fares on their direct service to MIA. It will be a shame if they go bust. I have noticed they’ve been running some pretty strong promotional fares lately. Forward bookings may not be looking great…