When Morris Air merged with Southwest Airlines, many Utahns felt it left a hole in the state's air service. Winair Inc., a new charter airline based at the general aviation facility at Salt Lake International Airport, wants to try to fill at least a portion of that gap.

Winair currently has two Boeing 737 jets configured in a 122-seat, all-coach arrangement with "hot galley" capability to provide meal service, and a half-dozen more planes will be joining the fleet over the next two years.The fledgling carrier moved through the government certification process in record time, said president and CEO Leon Christensen. Winair made its application to the Department of Transportation Sept. 25, received certification a month later and began flying Jan. 21.

"We fly under the same rules and regulations as the major carriers, but as a charter we don't have scheduled routes," said Steven W. Kasteler, executive vice president. "If you have a group who wants to go to Las Vegas for the weekend, we'll fly you down there and bring you back."

And if the group is large enough, it will cost less per passenger than the scheduled airlines, he said. That's because the charter price is the same whether two people or 200 make the trip. The entire plane is chartered on an hourly basis, not on how many seats are filled.

Like Winair, Morris Air was originally a charter. It later began operating as a scheduled charter and then went to scheduled airline service just before the merger with Southwest. Many people didn't realize that Morris was originally a charter service because it had arrangements with tour operators that made the process seem much like flying a scheduled airline.

"Morris was a one-stop shop," agreed Kasteler. "They booked passengers and put them on the aircraft and you got your hotel, airfare, car rental and tickets to Disneyland in one package."

Kasteler said Winair is currently working with tour operators who will provide the same services with Winair handling only the travel portion of the package.

Christensen cautioned that the comparison with Morris Air shouldn't be carried too far. "Morris' flights were on a scheduled basis, while we do ours on an ad hoc basis, so I don't want people to think we are picking up where Morris left off."

He said Winair is really filling the gaps created by the relocation of Champion Air, formerly based in Salt Lake City, and the shutdown of Viscount Air, based in Tucson, and Great American Airways, based in Reno.

Still, he said, there are similarities between Winair and Morris. Like Morris, Winair is providing charter service for some Utah and WAC athletic teams and plans to add more.

Currently, it is scheduled to fly the Brigham Young University football team to its away games this year. It also flies the U.S. Marshall's Service and has been asked by several NBA teams to look at next year.

"At this point, we have more opportunities than aircraft," said Christensen.

Winair has completely overhauled and refurbished its aircraft (bought used) with new interiors and FAA mandated equipment. The color scheme for the exterior of the planes is white with blue and teal lettering and accents.

Many of Winair's 70 employees are veterans of Morris Air and Key Airlines. Richard I. Winwood, one of the founders of what is now Franklin Covey and owner of the Million Air and Intermountain Piper facilities at Salt Lake International, is chairman and put up the capital to launch the company.

Winair's planes won't go overseas, but service coverage includes all of the 48 states and Alaska as well as Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

A third 737-200 aircraft is scheduled to come into the Winair fleet April 6, a fourth in June, a fifth in November and another two or three next year. "Our goal is to have eight planes by 1999," said Kasteler.