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SeaPort Airlines gives notice

Posted: Wednesday, Jun 8th, 2011

CEO cites reasons in email to Newport mayor

SeaPort Airlines has invoked the 30-day notice to vacate required in its contract with the City of Newport.

The notification in a June 1 email from SeaPort President and CEO Rob McKinney to Newport Mayor Mark McConnell and Newport Airport Director Gene Cossey opens the gate to the possibility that the struggling airline would clip its own wings and stop providing service to and from Newport after July 1.

City officials immediately issued a press release and later provided a copy of McKinney’s email.

“With the complete refusal of NOAA to fly SeaPort, we don’t see how we can keep the service going,” McKinney wrote in the email. “We have exhausted every effort to get them in our planes.” He noted that and “the need to pay for pilot housing” as the primary reasons to invoke the 30-day notice.

McKinney indicated that he has made no final decision to cease service for Newport, but “I feel like we need the option,” he explained.

City officials say they and city staff “have been working diligently” to ensure SeaPort’s continued service and hoped that “something can be worked out” to allow SeaPort to remain beyond July 1.

According to them, “various lodging establishments” and individual residents have offered one week of pilot housing in exchange for two round-trip tickets on SeaPort. Cossey said the airport’s terminal facilities have space “that could be easily and economically converted to pilot housing” for SeaPort pilots and resolve one of McKinney’s pressing issues.

The city also sells fuel to SeaPort at a discount, but McKinney’s email noted that “the cost of fuel system-wide is killing us.”

NOAA officials issued a response to McKinney’s criticism through Public Affairs Officer David Hall.

“NOAA has utilized SeaPort Airlines for travel to and from Newport when the airline’s schedule has met our transportation and schedule needs,” he said, noting that the new homeport facility won’t become fully operational until July 1. “We have chartered flights through SeaPort, and both employees and contractors have used the airline. We would use SeaPort’s services in the future, if it meets our schedule and transportation needs.”

The CEO expressed his appreciation for all efforts by the city to make the partnership work. “Telling you this saddens me greatly,” he wrote. “I so wanted to prove the critics wrong.”

McConnell suggested they notify SeaPort voucher holders of the situation, and that they receive full refunds for tickets if SeaPort does stop service, adding that there is no rush to apply for refunds, since SeaPort officials have not yet reached a final decision.

McKinney noted he was “not absolutely sure” SeaPort would fly the coop in July.

During Monday night’s city council session, Councilor David Allen referred to the notice provision in the agreement signed in March, which states, in part, that should SeaPort determine “it is no longer economically feasible” to continue regularly scheduled airline service, the airline had to provide written notice no less than 30 days before terminating service.

The News-Times could not reach McKinney for further comment, as he was out of the country on business. Future updates will be reported as this story unfolds.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at 541-265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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