After more than a year of development, representatives with a proposed Christian-based airline announced that it will not be operating out of Texoma.
Representatives with the company said Wednesday that they have closed their operations in Denison and are relocating to Shreveport Regional Airport in Louisiana. Judah 1 founder Everett Aaron said the decision was made following several setbacks, including issues with maintenance and facilities, among others.
In late 2018, non-profit Judah 1 announced plans to operate out of North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field as the world’s first, and only, Christian Airline.
“We cannot bring it (our aircraft) into the hangar enough, we cannot bring the MD (McDonnell Douglas MD83) there and we would have to build a hangar,” Aaron said. “With the time it takes to go through that, we would need a place that would already have that hangar in existence.”
Judah 1 announced plans to relocate to NTRA and start up operations as a Christian-based airline in late 2018. The majority of the service would be aimed at the missionary market, which boasts nearly 400,000 travellers from the U.S. each year, Aaron said.
Through the service, Judah 1 would offer scheduled, ticketed, trips to popular missions destinations, with Haiti, Central America and South America serving as early destinations.
“This is not just a typical airline,” Aaron said in 2018. “This is not schedule routes and we are not taking people from Dallas to Vegas. That is not what this is about. All of this is about missionaries and giving back and helping the world become a better place — that’s what we are about.”
Aaron said the possibility of leaving NTRA started surfacing around September. He surprised his wife over Christmas with the news that they would be moving closer to family in Louisiana. Judah 1 closed its offices at NTRA and started moving out office furniture in late February, effectively bringing an end to its tenure in Texoma.
Aaron, who is also an ordained minister, said he came up with the idea for Judah 1 during a prayer time in 1994 in which he felt called to assist missionaries across the globe. After 20 years, the opportunity to assist presented itself, Aaron said.
Initially the proposed airline was based in Tulsa before it planned to move to Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport. This choice presented challenges as Alliance is primarily used as a freight airport, and representatives decided to look north for an answer.
Early plans for Judah 1 called for it act as a private operator. Under this designation, the service would not be able to sell tickets and would only be allowed to provide services to a maximum of five organizations each year, acting similar to a charter service.
This led to some complications with the FAA, as one of the organizations slated to work with Judah 1 was an agent.
Throughout the process, the launch of Judah 1 appeared to be set back with delays. In late 2018 Aaron said he hoped to have certifications and approval to start operations sometime between June and August. However, in mid-2019 Aaron tentatively set a goal of being in the skies by January 2020.
One of the issues that led to setbacks were concerns about access to the Transportation Security Administration and customs. Initially, Aaron said he thought TSA screening could be waived due to the small size of the airline, but later learned that this would be required. While access for the TSA is not feasible at NTRA,
“We have to have access to TSA and customs to move forward in the (Part) 121 world, and that is what gets us our airline certification,” Aaron said, referring to FAA regulations for regularly-scheduled air carriers.
Customs would also prove to be an issue for both locations. In order to have adequate customs capacity, Aaron said Judah 1 will need to stop at either Dallas-Fort Worth or New Orleans, even with the move to Shreveport.
Even as the company goes through a relocation, Aaron said Judah 1 is still moving forward with acquiring the certifications it needs to get in the air, figuratively and literally. The manuals that direct operations for the airline are expected to be completed within the next two weeks, marking a major milestone for Judah 1. The aircraft will still need an upgrade to the electrical system, which Aaron described as a circuit breaker for aircraft.
With the changes underway, Aaron estimated that Judah 1 was still a year out from being ready to begin operations. While the FAA said the process could be done within the next nine months, Aaron said a year is a more likely time frame.
“I am going to bump it up a bit because you never know how quickly they are going to move on things,” he said.
NTRA Airport Manager Mike Livezey said he was disappointed at the news that Judah 1 was leaving NTRA, but said it was not a significant hit to the airport financially. The impact to the airport is significantly less than it would have been if the airline had started operations, he said.