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Low-frill airline leaves Pinellas

Eagle Airlines, a low-frills carrier that styled itself after Skybus, has pulled out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport so it can concentrate its service in Fort Lauderdale.

Eagle ended its St. Petersburg-Clearwater flights Monday, said Bob Uhrich, the airline's general manager in Fort Lauderdale. He said passenger loads had been so light that the St. Petersburg-Newark route was not profitable.

"The counts for the future just weren't there," Uhrich said.

Eagle's departure is a victory for Largo-based Sun Jet International Airlines, which flies the same route to Newark and uses the same general pricing plan as Eagle.

Sun Jet's flights have been profitable, a company spokesman said, with the average flight 75 to 80 percent full. Public charter carriers such as Sun Jet and Eagle charge low fares of $69 to $100 each way to Newark because they offer fewer frills and use less-expensive airports.

Uhrich said the Tampa Bay area is saturated with low-cost airlines such as Sun Jet, KIWI International and Continental. Major airlines such as USAir have matched those low fares, which has led to lower demand for Eagle's flights.

Passengers on future Eagle flights have been offered refunds or seats on Sun Jet, Uhrich said.

Eagle will now focus on Fort Lauderdale, which is a more popular destination for people from the New York-New Jersey area, he said. Also, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area has a larger population base, he said.

Eagle, which owns only one airplane, plans to expand service when it gets additional planes, Uhrich said, but those plans will not involve St. Petersburg.

Eagle ran into trouble with the federal government last year because it hired two former executives of no-frills Skybus, which had abruptly gone out of business. Eagle fired them both in December.