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Published: Wednesday, 5/27/2009

New airline plans flights out of Toledo

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Florida-based company expects to announce Wednesday its plans for new airline service between Toledo and two cities using 189-seat jet aircraft beginning in July, with a third route to start in August.

JetAmerica's tentative schedule calls for flights between Toledo and Newark, N.J., daily except Saturday plus twice-weekly service to Melbourne, Fla., beginning July 13. Thrice-weekly flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul are to begin Aug. 14.

Fares will start as low as $9 one way plus taxes and fees, with at least 19 seats on each Boeing 737-800 aircraft at the bargain price. Passengers will be allowed up to two carry-on bags at no charge, but fees will be charged for all checked baggage, snacks and drinks, and in-flight entertainment.

The first year of service is to be subsidized with a $400,000 federal Small Cities Air Service grant, matched by $200,000 in Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority funds, plus marketing assistance from the port authority and local media outlets.

Michael Stolarczyk, the port authority's president, said he is "totally excited about the opportunity of having big-jet service in Toledo," especially with a Newark schedule that will support same-day business travel to the New York metropolitan area.

JetAmerica's news conference this morning comes 11 weeks after one held at Toledo Express by Air Azul to announce thrice-weekly flights between Toledo and Newark. But that plan, which relied on the same federal grant that now will subsidize JetAmerica, unraveled in late April.

As Air Azul had planned to do, JetAmerica will not fly planes itself. Instead, it will contract for aircraft and crews from Miami Air International and use contractors for virtually everything else, including counter service, baggage handling, and gate personnel. JetAmerica will have a company-employed manager at each airport.

Bryan Glazer, a contract spokesman for the airline, said JetAmerica plans to station at least one of its hired planes at Toledo for overnight servicing and maintenance.

The new airline is headed by John Weikle, a Tipp City, Ohio, resident and longtime airline executive who founded Skybus Airlines. That carrier began ultra-discount air service based in Columbus two years ago, but then abruptly shut down and declared bankruptcy less than 11 months later.

Mr. Weikle had left the airline the day after it began flying, and declined to comment on the Skybus collapse outside of the following prepared statement: "I always intended to move forward with other projects after the first Skybus revenue flight was launched on May 22, 2007. I left the company on May 23, 2007, the day following the airline's first revenue flight. I was no longer with the airline and had nothing to do with the board of managers' decision to cease operations 11 months later in April, 2008."

Mr. Stolarczyk said that although he is aware of the Skybus history, he believes JetAmerica has a sound service proposal, and the opportunity to develop new air service at Toledo Express is worth the risk.

"Any investment venture in this economy is a risk," Mr. Stolarczyk said. "If we don't see the opportunity now, then we'll be trying to get in when airlines are adding service everywhere and we'll be at the back of the line. We can't wait for the economy to turn around to make it work."

Mr. Weikle said the Jet-

America business model is based on that of RyanAir, a European carrier that has offered ultra-low fares by using secondary airports and charging extra for food, baggage, and other services.

It also is relying on public funding, with the airport authorities in South Bend, Ind., and Melbourne, Fla., also arranging for Small Cities Air Service grants to guarantee its revenue.

The JetAmerica announcement arrives as Toledo Express continues to struggle with deep service cuts by traditional air carriers coping first with skyrocketing fuel costs and then a travel slump brought on by economic conditions.

During the first quarter of 2009, just 51,045 passengers flew in or out of the local airport, down from 74,717 during the first quarter of 2008 and only about 40 percent of Toledo Express' passenger volume as recently as 2005.

Success for JetAmerica, Mr. Stolarczyk said, will depend on three factors: the airline providing a useful service, the port authority providing an efficient airport, and local travelers buying tickets.

"The community has to make the bookings," he said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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