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HomeNewsLocal
Published: 7/18/2009

JetAmerica cancels entire route network; Toledo flights grounded

BY DAVID PATCH
AND NEENA SATIJA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
In this artist's rendering provided by JetAmerica, a JetAmerica aircraft is shown. In this artist's rendering provided by JetAmerica, a JetAmerica aircraft is shown.
AP Enlarge

JetAmerica, the start-up air carrier that was going to kick-start Toledo's air-travel market with discount flights to metropolitan New York and two other destinations, pulled the plug on its entire proposed route network yesterday.

It blamed the decision on difficulty getting access to the airport in Newark, which was also the reason it cited 15 days ago for canceling its first month of service.

John Weikle, the company's chief executive officer, said company officials now plan to "refocus on different markets" and are unsure if a new plan will include Toledo or other Midwestern cities that were listed in the service announcements they made in late May.

"We still strongly believe that there is an unmet need for affordable air service to secondary markets and we look forward to offering this option again in the near future," Mr. Weikle said.

"Newark will definitely not be on the new map, however," he added.

Refunds for travelers booked on JetAmerica flights are to be issued within 14 days, and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority said it would offer rebooking assistance and parking vouchers to travelers who had bought tickets on the carrier for Toledo flights through Oct. 31.

"This is a big disappointment. We had a lot of excitement, a lot of hope that we were having a chance to get big-jet service into Toledo," Michael Stolarczyk, the port authority's president, said yesterday. "I'm really bummed out. There's no other way of putting it. But we did everything we possibly could to bring them here."

Jerry Chabler, a member of the port authority board of directors' airport committee, said he too was disappointed by JetAmerica's decision - but not surprised.

"It's the other shoe dropping, there's no question about it," Mr. Chabler said. "The fact that Weikle was involved with SkyBus should have been a heads-up for us."

Before his involvement with JetAmerica, Mr. Weikle founded SkyBus Airlines, a low-cost startup based in Columbus that flew for fewer than 11 months before it abruptly ceased operations in April, 2008. Mr. Weikle, however, noted often that he left that company the day it started operating.

The port authority spent $119,000 on advertising and other marketing assistance to promote JetAmerica, money it stands to lose unless the carrier somehow establishes service to another New York-area airport that qualifies under the terms of a Small Cities Air Service grant the agency obtained to support Toledo-New York flights.

"It's unfortunate because the carrier's not going to come here," said Carla Firestone, a port authority spokesman. The silver lining, she said, is that the port authority "spent almost all of those dollars right here in the community" on local billboards and media advertising.

Passenger travel through Toledo Express has plummeted in recent years as traditional airlines reduced flights, or pulled out altogether, to focus on higher-density routes. Port authority officials had hoped JetAmerica would spawn a reversal of the airport's fortunes by luring back local travelers who fly from Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport, and even attracting out-of-towners with deeply discounted fares.

JetAmerica originally said it would start flying between Toledo and Newark on July 13, with promotional fares as low as $9 one-way plus taxes and fees. On Aug. 14, service several times per week between Toledo and both Minneapolis-St. Paul and Melbourne, Fla., was to begin.

Jet America also planned flights to Melbourne from Newark and Lansing, Mich., and to Newark from Lansing and South Bend, Ind.

The carrier planned to contract with Miami Air International, an airline specializing in sports team travel and other charters, for the actual flights, including airplanes, pilots, and cabin crews.

Flight schedules were designed so that the aircraft - a single Boeing 737-800 at the start - and crews would be based in Toledo, employing 36 flight personnel and creating maintenance business at Toledo Express too.

But on July 3, facing a regulatory deadline, JetAmerica postponed its inaugural flights until Aug. 14.

JetAmerica blamed its inability to obtain take-off and landing "slots" at Newark Liberty International Airport for the postponement, and then cancellation, of its flights. Company officials said that when they first asked the Federal Aviation Administration about Newark flights, they were told they would not need such "slots" because of their public-charter status, only to have the federal regulators change that tune when JetAmerica began selling tickets.

The FAA countered that JetAmerica always had been considered scheduled service, and any scheduled service would need slots for Newark, one of five high-density airports for which the agency controls such access.

"From their press release in May, they said they planned regular service," said Laura Brown, an FAA spokesman. "In the context of the slots at Newark, that means that they would have to have slots."

The port authority announced that anyone holding a valid Toledo ticket on JetAmerica would be offered "travel consultant services" through Sylvania-based Atlas World Travel to make alternate arrangements for their trips and vouchers for up to five days of free parking at Toledo Express. Eligible travelers must submit proof of their reservations and contact information to the travel agency and the port authority to claim those benefits.

Travelers who do not receive refunds within 14 days should contact JetAmerica directly, the port authority said.

Because JetAmerica was operating as a public charter carrier, all funds paid for tickets were held in escrow until flights departed, and thus were shielded from being spent by the carrier beforehand for any purpose.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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