JetAmerica -- one plane, $1.4 million in grants makes an airline

Take a dollop of recession, a healthy spoonful of declining air passenger numbers, add the scent of prior failure and what do you get? A new airline.

Some of the people behind the recently folded Skybus are back with JetAmerica, a new regional airline that will serve a few towns in the Great Lakes area and cherry-pick a couple of longer routes.

The new air carrier will operate out of the Toledo (Ohio) Express Airport, thanks to a $600,000 grant from the city and additional money chipped in by other destinations to a total of $1.4 million.

Borrowing a PR stunt from Skybus, JetAmerica will offer nine seats per flight for $9 per. Fares will top out at $199 for a one-way ticket, although it will tack on extra charges such as a $10 booking fee.

Cities on the original flight plan are Lansing, Mich., Newark, N.J., South Bend, Ind., and Melbourne, Fla. Three flights a week will serve Minneapolis.

The management of JetAmerica includes Skybus founder John Weikle, who left the company shortly after inception, Chris Gazel, chief pilot for Skybus, and Sharon McDermott, a regional station manager for the failed airline.

The State of Ohio is attempting to recoup $1.15 million of the grant money given to Skybus. Port Columbus is out $5.2 million in lost incentives and rent, while unsecured creditors appear to be in line to receive 76 cents on the dollar when the bankruptcy is complete. Stockholders were left holding the barf bag.

JetAmerica had originally planned to launch last year from Charleston, W.V., but astronomical fuel costs and the sagging economy led to the decision to postpone the starting date, while cash convinced it to relocate to Ohio.

JetAmerica is outsourcing the actual flying of passengers to Miami Air, which will fly the single Boeing 737-800 that comprises the JetAmerica fleet. Shades of Skybus, which ran into a PR nightmare when one of its fleet of only five planes was grounded for repair, leaving thousands stranded. There is lean, and then there is anorexic -- Skybus adopted a finger-down-the-throat business plan, and JetAmerica seems to be flying in its contrail.

A Toledo airport executive told the West Virginia Gazette that a direct flight to New York was important to the cities' business community. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Toledo is #52 among 372 metropolitan areas in unemployment, at 12.1%. An optimist would suggest that direct flights to New York could only help bring new business. A pessimist would wonder how many Toledo residents have the money and the need to fly to the Big Apple?

The airline probably isn't worried. It has all that startup capital from the cities it will serve, and if it doesn't work out? Just follow Skybus into the hanger.

Note: JetAmerica and Jet America are two different companies. Is that smart business?

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