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Son of Skybus headed to N.E.?

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  May 29, 2009 11:06 AM

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A new carrier announced plans this week to launch service out of six US cities in the next few months. The start-up said that it would offer discount fares, beginning at $9 a seat, and keep prices down by flying out of secondary cities, with most of the profit expected to come from fees for a variety of extras (think checked bags, pillows, etc,) and food and merchandise sales.
Sound familiar? It should. The man behind JetAmerica, John Weikle, was the founder of Skybus -- they of the $10 seats and abundant fees -- which went under in April of last year. Weikle left Skybus in 2007.
JetAmerica says its initial cities will be Newark, N.J., Toledo, Ohio, Lansing, Mich., South Bend, Ind., Melbourne, Fla., and Minneapolis.
Even though JetAmerica, which technically is running as a charter with planes from Miami Air International, has yet to make a single flight, it already seems to have expansion plans, which could involve New England. Weikel told his hometown paper, The Charleson Gazette, that he hopes to add Charleston and seven other "focus cities'' in the next 18 months. And JetAmerica officials told The Toledo Blade that in the next couple of years the carrier may head to Hartford, Conn., Baltimore, and Chicago's Midway Airport.
The Portsmouth Herald has reported Pease Development Authority officials are in talks to bring JetAmerica to Portsmouth International Airport, which hasn't had any regular passenger service since Skybus filed for bankruptcy.
The folks in New Hampshire aren't the only ones in the region eyeing up JetAmerica. Officials at Burlington International in Vermont say they haven't had any talks with the start-up but are keeping tabs on the the carrier's progress.
The airport is looking to make sales pitches to a dozen carriers next week in an attempt to lure more routes in the wake of a decision by AirTran to scale back service there, according to the Burlington Free Press.
It's no surprise that as the bigger airlines are trimming schedules that smaller and medium-size airports, which are losing flights, should be scrambling to bring in more business.
While the JetAmerica launch has drawn significant interest from airports, it has also turned the spotlight on the project's major investor. The Columbus Dispatch has reported that Steven Schoen, chairman of Sun America, "left [Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport] on the hook for more than $50,000 from a previous airline venture and alienated the major area casinos that help subsidize air service to Gulfport.''
Schoen was an investor in Casino Airlink and Southeast Airlines, both of which flew to Gulfport, Miss. JetAmerica spokesman Bryan Glazer told the Dispatch:

Schoen "became a victim of the abrupt financial difficulties incurred by Southeast." He said Schoen's situation "is not unlike the financial problems of many Americans who have lost their life savings and retirement funds in the stock market and independent investments."

For more adventures of the Son of Skybus, stay tuned.

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