News Article - March 20, 2008

  With less than two weeks under its belt at New Castle Airport, Skybus Airlines on Wednesday announced it already is cutting back service. "That didn't take long, did it?" said David Prata of Bear, who prefers flying out of New Castle over Philadelphia International Airport.

   Beginning April 15, Skybus is reducing its service between Greensboro, N.C., and New Castle from two flights a day to one morning flight. The daily flight to Columbus, Ohio, will not be affected. The airline also will discontinue service from its base in Ohio to Chattanooga, Tenn. New service from Columbus to Niagara Falls, N.Y., which was scheduled to begin April 1, also has been nixed. While the timing is unfortunate, the decision was a way to reduce expenses, Skybus spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said.

   "It's got absolutely nothing to do with Wilmington and everything to do with the cost of fuel," Tenenbaum said. "As most people are aware, fuel costs have skyrocketed and every airline is trying to figure out the best way to deal with this. We're being smart about fuel usage and cutting back service without eliminating the market entirely." Customers who were booked to fly out of New Castle to Greensboro received e-mails Wednesday advising them that a Skybus "schedule change," means they had been moved to a different flight. Ticket holders were disgruntled, complaining that the cutbacks were no way to launch a new service or build trust. Tenenbaum would not say how many customers already had purchased tickets to or from Greensboro.

   Customers have the option of remaining on the changed flight, moving to a different flight at no cost, or requesting a refund. Because Skybus does not have a customer service number, anyone with questions should go to James Salmon, spokesman for the Delaware River & Bay Authority, which operates the airport, said he was not aware of the Skybus plans.

   "It's good to hear we're not the only ones affected, but obviously you want more service instead of having service reduced," he said. "Hopefully passengers, customers in the area, will continue to use the Skybus service, because I don't think this decision is indicative of the appeal of New Castle." Bookings out of New Castle are increasing steadily, just as hoped, Tenenbaum said, which is why the airline did not want to eliminate service entirely. "We think Wilmington has a lot of possibilities," he said.

   While Prata said he's not sure what the reduced service to Greensboro will mean -- he doubts it's the "most popular route on the East Coast" -- he's worried what message Skybus' announcement will send to other small or low-cost carriers that might have been considering flying out of New Castle. "They're going to say that no one's ever made it in New Castle," Prata said. " I think this will make airlines afraid to come in here." But Salmon said he's remaining positive.

   "Hopefully this has more to do with the fuel price economy than it has to do with passenger demand," he said. Six months after Delta bailed out of New Castle Airport, following in the wake of United Airlines, Shuttle America and Crown Airlines, the first Skybus plane from Columbus landed in Delaware on March 7. The inaugural 156-seat flight into New Castle carried about 107 passengers, and about 90 were booked on the return flight to Ohio.

Source - Delaware Online