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Published: Thursday, 5/28/2009

Start-up airline may expand beyond 3 cities


Toledo could get nonstop air service to Baltimore, Hartford, Conn., Chicago s Midway Airport, or other cities in the next two years as start-up airline JetAmerica expands its operations, company officials said in an interview yesterday after formally announcing initial flights to three cities.

JetAmerica will start with a single Boeing 737-800 airplane chartered from Miami Air International when it begins flights between Toledo and Newark on July 13. In the next year, it intends to add three planes to its fleet, all assigned to Toledo-based routes to be selected from lists developed by air-service consultants, airline president John Weikle said.

The company s business model is to serve travelers in secondary cities that have infrequent flights and high fares, and take them to major business and travel destinations at bargain fares, with ancillary revenue like add-on fees and onboard sales of food and merchandise providing most of the profit, Mr. Weikle said.

Toledo will be JetAmerica s first focus city, he said.

Michael Stolarczyk, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority s president, said the airline s Newark schedule should support same-day business travel to New York. The $9 base fare for limited numbers of seats on each flight will allow early birds to travel like jet-setters.

But it s up to the community to support this service to keep it around, Mr. Stolarczyk said during the morning news conference at Toledo Express Airport.

We believe the $9 tickets will stimulate the market, Mr. Weikle said. People who fly occasionally will fly more often, and they will get business travelers to think Toledo first. It could even cause folks from Detroit to drive 60 miles south to chase a fare in Toledo.

The day after JetAmerica begins its daily-except-Saturday flights between Express and Newark, it will introduce twice-weekly service to Melbourne, Fla. And on Aug. 14, thrice-weekly flights to and from Minneapolis-St. Paul are scheduled to begin.

The airline also will fly to Melbourne from Newark and Lansing, Mich., and to Newark from Lansing and South Bend, Ind.

Richard Gabel, a port authority director and head of a longshoremen s union local in Toledo, said he expects the new Toledo flights to be a hit. A lot of people go to LaGuardia [Airport in New York], and that s a hassle, he said. This [Newark] is right across the river and it s really convenient. And people will fly into Melbourne to go all over Florida.

Schedules are arranged to allow the plane to begin and end each day in Toledo, and Miami Air International will establish a crew base at Express that will employ 36 pilots and cabin crew, Mr. Weikle said. That number will increase as the fleet grows, he said.

Contracting for planes and crews at the start will allow Jet America to start service swiftly and without the overhead involved in hiring flight staff and leasing planes. Within 18 to 24 months it expects to start a transition toward bringing flight operations in-house, Mr. Weikle said.

Miami Air International is an experienced airline contractor that is most prominent in the business of flying sports-team charters and also provides some service on name-brand airlines behalf, the JetAmerica president said. It has been in business for 18 years, the last 16 of them profitable, he said.

Mr. Weikle and Chris Grazel, the airline s chief operating officer, acknowledged that the $9 promotional one-way fare JetAmerica has announced for its flights is an enticement to the company Web site, but pledged that at least nine bargain seats on the 189-seat aircraft will be available for each flight, and that the top one-way Toledo-Newark fare of $199 will still be much less than other airlines charge for walk-up passengers.

No one will actually pay just $9 to fly. The airline immediately adds a $5 convenience fee for online bookings and $10 for travelers who book by telephone. The base fare also does not include various government taxes and fees, and there are additional charges for checked baggage, reserved seat selection, and on-board food and drink.

Jet America calculates that it needs to collect an average one-way fare of $71, plus $20 in ancillary fees, to sustain the planned Toledo service. Although the port authority is providing a $400,000 federal grant, plus $200,000 in local matching funds, to support the carrier, that money will be dedicated to marketing and will be spent in the Toledo area, Mr. Weikle said.

The airline president credited Mr. Stolarczyk with drawing his attention to the Toledo market for the new service.

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