Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SeaPort calling it quits after less than a year

SeaPort Airlines Talks Business:

MUSCLE SHOALS — SeaPort Airlines has announced it will cease operations in the Shoals on Friday, despite a U.S. Department of Transportation order requiring the airline to remain here until Dec. 28. 

This means the Shoals will be without commercial air service until another airline can begin service under the federally subsidized Essential Air Service program.

In a brief, but to the point letter to Kevin Schlemmer, chief, Essential Air Service and Domestic Analysis Division at the U.S. Department of Transportation, SeaPort Vice President Tim Sieber said the commuter airline is “getting hammered” by the nationwide pilot’s shortage, especially at its Memphis, Tennessee, hub.

“We can’t reliably publish a schedule for Muscle Shoals and Tupelo beyond this coming Friday and have no choice but to end service,” Sieber wrote.

Sieber is referring to Tupelo, Mississippi, and the Tupelo Regional airport, which was also served by SeaPort.

The airline began providing air service at the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport Jan. 12.

“We are disappointed that SeaPort Airlines was unable to provide reliable air service to the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport as originally planned,” Airport Director Barry Griffith said. “Due to pilot shortage issues and Seaport’s inability to fly published schedules, MSL service will end on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, two months ahead of a DOT hold-in order that requires Seaport to remain in place until Dec. 28, 2015.”

Schlemmer acknowledged receipt of Sieber’s correspondence and reminded him of the Transportation Department’s hold-in order.

“As a reminder, carriers are subject to enforcement action when they fail to comply with federal aviation statutes and regulations and department orders,” Schlemmer wrote.

He also pointedly mentioned that he noticed SeaPort’s announcement of new service in Washington State. SeaPort is based in Portland, Oregon. The airline also recently sold it’s airline operations in Alaska.

The Transportation Department has issued an order requesting proposals from airlines wishing to provide air service in the Shoals as well as Tupelo. Griffith said he anticipates four or five airlines will submit proposals.

“Muscle Shoals and Tupelo officials will closely evaluate each proposal and make the best possible selection,” Griffith said.

Griffith is no stranger to the frustration local travelers have experienced over the last couple of years primarily caused by SeaPort and Silver Airways, the airline that preceded SeaPort.

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