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Jet America set to begin service in July

A startup airline owned by a Tarpon Springs financier and headquartered near St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport opens for business today.

But Jet America won't fly to the Tampa Bay area when the first flights start July 13. The tiny carrier will connect only small and mid-sized cities to the New York metro area and Minneapolis.

Jet America is owned by Steven Schoen, who ran a service that sold trips between St. Petersburg-Clearwater International and Mississippi's Gulf Coast casinos. He sold Casino Airlink in 1996 and subsequently invested in other carriers, including bankrupt Southeast Airlines of Largo.

This venture follows the no-frills, pay-as-you-go model of Irish powerhouse Ryanair and U.S. discounters Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air. Fares will start at $9 each way for the first nine to 19 seats and top out at $199 one way.

Jet America will charge an additional $20 for a round-trip with an assigned seat, $20 to buy a ticket by phone and $10 to book on the Web site (www.jetamerica.com). The airline will begin with one leased jet and grow to four planes in a year, said chief executive John Weikle, former boss at now-defunct Skybus.

The four initial cities — Toledo, Ohio, South Bend, Ind., Lansing, Mich., and Melbourne on Florida's east coast — are subsidizing Jet America by waiving airport fees and helping with marketing and advertising.

Schoen, the airline's board chairman, wanted the headquarters close to his home, said airline spokesman Bryan Glazer. About 15 employees work in an office park across from the airport. Jet America is thinly staffed, with all flight crews working for charter company Miami Air.

Airline officials have talked about making St. Petersburg-Clearwater a "focus city" destination, Weikle said. But that won't happen for at least 18 months, and other airports are in the running, he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Jet America set to begin service in July 05/26/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 9:05pm]

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