Startup airline has its eye on Pittsburgh

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Another startup airline trying to get off the ground has its sights set on Pittsburgh.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based City Link Air has talked to local officials about starting service from Pittsburgh International Airport, perhaps even seeing it as a potential focus city.

"They're a startup looking for opportunities around the country. Like we talk to a lot of others, we talk to them," said Bradley D. Penrod, president and chief strategy officer for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International.

Mr. Penrod characterized the dealings with City Link as "an early discussion. They've approached us and they've given us a presentation," he said.

Asked what plans the airline had for Pittsburgh, he said, "I think that's part of what they're still trying to get their hands around."

Mr. Penrod said representatives for the startup have not talked to authority officials about using the airport as a hub, but others close to the situation have indicated that City Link is considering Pittsburgh as a possible focus city.

Joshua Newsteder, a former Navy pilot who is heading up City Link's effort to start service, had no comment on Pittsburgh or the airline's plans in general.

According to its Facebook page, City Link was founded in January 2010. It describes itself as a "proposed start-up that will connect underserved city pairs throughout North America."

On its website, City Link advertises itself as "the best seats at the best price in the best markets supported by the best people at the best time."

The proposed startup touts among its goals as handling passengers and operations more efficiently, thus lowering costs and ticket prices. City Link plans also call for investing in airplanes with 14 percent more overhead bin space and about 4 more inches of legroom. The startup plans to avoid heavily defended markets, adding, "We will fly where no others fly non-stop."

In a 2009 interview with the Florida Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville, Mr. Newsteder outlined a plan to operate 50-seat jets for flights to eight cities, including Pittsburgh, Palm Beach and Islip, N.Y., as well as Nassau, Bahamas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is not known how many of those cities he still is considering.

At the time, he was seeking financial backing. According to the article, Mr. Newsteder began serving in the Navy in 1989 and became a commercial pilot in 2004, flying private jets.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has yet to receive an application from City Link to obtain certificate authority as an air carrier, spokesman Bill Mosley said. Obtaining such authority would be a key step toward beginning service.

Getting City Link in the air could be a challenge.

Darryl Jenkins, chairman of the American Aviation Institute in Bethesda, Md., an independent aviation think tank, said it is a tough time to try to get an airline up and running, particularly when it comes to raising money.

"Nobody I know is investing in new airlines right now. If you did it, it would have to be done on a regional basis with local money and local interest," he said.

Mr. Jenkins knew of several proposed startups trying to get into the air and, "I don't see any of them making any progress right now."

One airline struggling to take off is PEOPLExpress, a Newport News, Va.-based carrier that also has an interest in making Pittsburgh a focus city.

The carrier, named after the popular no-frills carrier that failed in the 1980s, initially hoped to start service in August 2012. It then pushed that back to early 2013.

Based on media reports last month, it is now shooting for the second quarter of 2014, as it works with the U.S. Department of Transportation for final accreditation.

In October, PEOPLExpress hired its first CEO in Jeffrey Erickson, a former president and CEO of Trans World Airlines who also worked for Reno Air and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings.

In June, PEOPLExpress acquired Boise, Idaho-based Xtra Airways, giving it the ability to operate aircraft under the Federal Aviation Administration certificate issued to Xtra.

PEOPLExpress had been considering four to six flights a day from Pittsburgh. Other cities that were expected to be part of the carrier's network included Providence, R.I.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Newark, N.J. Last month, the airline declined to release its routes.

Mr. Penrod said he hadn't heard anything from PEOPLExpress in a while.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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