Friday, October 23, 2015

SeaPort Airlines, despite order, ends service early in Tupelo

SeaPort Airlines‘ last flight from Tupelo left about 3 p.m. today headed toward Nashville, ending service two months earlier than planned.

Well, earlier than the U.S. Department of Transportation had planned.

Last month, the agency ordered SeaPort to continue providing roundtrip service to Memphis and Nashville through Dec. 28. The airline  announced in August it was withdrawing service on Oct. 23 – today – but the DOT issued a consent order to keep service until a replacement carrier could be found.

But SeaPort told DOT earlier this week that it would in fact end service today.

A spokeswoman for the federal agency wrote via email, “On Tuesday, Oct. 20,  the Department acknowledged receipt of SeaPort’s notice regarding the early termination of service to Muscle Shoals and Tupelo, despite the current order prohibiting SeaPort from terminating service, at least through Dec. 28.  The Department also reminded SeaPort that air carriers are subject to enforcement action when they fail to comply with federal aviation statutes and regulations and Department orders.”

She said the enforcement actions “could result in a warning letter or a consent order to cease and desist from similar conduct in the future (ooh, that will teach them, won’t it?). The consent order may include civil penalties issued under 49 U.S.C. 46301.”

That’s where the bite will be if the DOT slaps civil penalties on SeaPort. The DOT said SeaPort can be fined up to $27,500 per each violation and each day the violation continues.”

With 66 days left between now and Dec. 28, SeaPort could be fined more than $1.8 million.

SeaPort began service in October 2014 with a $2.5 million annual subsidy provided by the DOT’s Essential Air Service department. But canceled and late flights have plagued the airline, and DOT said earlier this year that the airline would only be paid for completed flights.

As for passengers that might have bought tickets in advance, well, they’ll have to go to SeaPort to get refunds.

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