PeoplExpress airline postpones takeoff in Pittsburgh

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Hold off on those PeoplExpress reservations for now. The would-be airline won't be flying from Pittsburgh anytime soon.

The new discount carrier had hoped to start service from Pittsburgh International Airport in August but still is trying to win approval from the federal government to take off.

Airline founder Mike Morisi acknowledged Monday that the proposed August startup has been pushed back. He said PeoplExpress now is looking to get off the ground in Pittsburgh and elsewhere in early 2013.

"It's quite an intense certification process. It's taken longer than we expected it would or hoped it would. It's on target. It's looking very good," he said.

In addition, four months after the Allegheny County Airport Authority board gave approval to complete lease negotiations with the carrier, PeoplExpress has yet to finalize an agreement, authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said.

"We're ready to proceed based on that board action. We're ready to enter into an agreement with them, but they probably aren't going to do so until they get that [federal] certification," she said.

Mr. Morisi said the airline intends to talk to airport officials in the next month or so about the amount of space it will need. The carrier originally had planned to lease two gates. Mr. Morisi would not say Monday whether that was still the case.

"We're still developing our network plan and haven't determined how much space we will need," he said.

The airline still wants to make Pittsburgh a focus city, he said. In March, officials were considering four to six flights a day from the airport, but Mr. Morisi said Monday that "we haven't finalized our plan yet."

PeoplExpress, named after the popular no-frills carrier that failed in the 1980s, plans to use Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport as its home base. Other cities expected to be part of the carrier's network at inception include Providence, R.I.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Newark, N.J.

Mr. Morisi said the carrier intends to file a revised operating network plan with the U.S. Department of Transportation within the next month. "It's going to be all good news," he said.

DOT is still reviewing the PeoplExpress original application filed in March as well as supplemental information it requested from the airline, agency spokesman Bill Mosley said.

Among the issues the agency is looking at is whether the carrier has adequate financing and qualified management in place to operate the airline, Mr. Mosley said, adding that it would be "premature to speculate" when a decision would be made.

The FAA, meanwhile, is reviewing PeoplExpress operating plans, taking into account everything from management structure to how it will maintain its planes. "We look at how they can manage and operate the airline safely," FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said.

PeoplExpress still doesn't have the planes it needs to get started. It has been negotiating with Qantas Airways to buy 14 Boeing 737-400 jets, but has yet to complete the deal. It also is considering 737-300 planes.

"We're still in negotiations with several operators and aircraft owners. We anticipate that we'll make an announcement about that within the next month or so," Mr. Morisi said.

The airline is in the process of trying to raise needed capital to meet DOT financial fitness requirements. Mr. Morisi declined to discuss such details Monday. "We have a very solid plan in place. We're comfortable and happy with the way it's moving," he said.

PeoplExpress plans to offer fares ranging from $69 to $149 one way, with no fees for checked baggage or reserving a seat. The carrier is targeting markets that have been largely abandoned by other airlines.

region - businessnews

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


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