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Top Secret Airline Watch: Project New Horizons

February 27, 2008 at 10:36 AM | by | Comments (9)

Back in early 2003, an airline industry veteran named John Weikle left US Airways to start Skybus. And though the ultra-LCC has moved on, he apparently still has the start-up itch. Weikle's rumored to be backing a new airline that'll be based at Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia.

At this early stage, there aren't many details about Project New Horizons, other than the Bond movie name. A local business alliance is planning to chip in some money for the start-up. But the numbers being tossed out at this stage are frighteningly low; one official says $3 million is the goal for this round of fundraising. (Skybus started operations with $160 million in the bank.)

As for Yeager Airport, it seems like a decent candidate for a new ultra-low cost carrier. It currently has regional service on five of the six legacy carriers. Aside from some seasonal service from a charter airline, an LCC would be the first point-to-point carrier to touch down at CRW.

It's worth mentioning, too, that Skybus' home base of Columbus is just three hours from Yeager. Could we be gearing up for a Stateside version of the eternal Ryanair/Easyjet battle? We hope so!

Related Stories:
· Charleston Group to Invest in Discount Airline Startup [Daily Mail]
· Low Cost Carriers coverage [Jaunted]

[Photo of CRW: Google Maps]

Comments (9)

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Interesting...

This will certainly be interesting to watch. A few more tidbits about the region (for what it's worth):

- About six or seven years ago, there was a failed attempt to build a new regional airport between Charleston and Huntington.

Yeager's longest runway is only about 6,300ft and, since it's located on top of a mountain, there is little room for expansion. The new airport was to initially have a single runway of 7,000+ ft, with plenty of room for expansion (for both the runway and the terminal) as well as room for a second parallel runway.

After a few feasibility studies and an in-depth design study, the project was killed; largely due to protests from folks affiliated with Yeager.

- The region is economically depressed... much more so than I think a lot of people realize. However, John Weikle is apparently a native of Charleston, so he's well aware of this. Much (if not most) of the air service in the state of WV is subsidised by the Essential Air Service program. In fact, I believe Yeager is one of only two airports in the state with commercial service that are not reliant upon EAS money.

Maybe a LCC is exactly what WV needs... maybe not...


Top Secret Airlines - Project New Horizons

It sounds great for West Virginia, but I don't see much impact on Skybus, if any at all.  A three hour drive to catch a morning flight out of Columbus mandates a hotel stay the night before.  Thus, any advantage in cost would be lost in the car expense, hotel rate, taxes and meals.

I think the writer misunderstood the purpose of the $3MM.  No one would think you could start an airline with $3MM.  It is called seed capital to start the process of fund raising, hiring key personnel and setting up the infrastructure for the new airline.  This would be no different than what Skybus did in Columbus.  It had local investment for the seed capital, and the big money came from the investment bankers representing investors throughout the country.  With load factors out of Columbus at better than 70%, Skybus should be well on the way to making a profit somewhere within the first five quarters of operation.  


That $3 Million...

Well, I certainly didn't think they'd be buying a bunch of new planes for $3 million. But getting some seed capital together and going wheels up are two much different things.

Interestingly, $3 million is exactly the amount Weikle scraped together before launching a major fundraising bid for Skybus. With Morgan Stanley and other investment banks in a much worse position than they were a few years ago, will they be as likely to pour money into a start-up airline?

New Horizons

The LCC is the wave of the future.  No one gave Jet Blue much of a chance to get started, and it went forward with investment capital.  No one gave Skybus much of a chance either to raise the money, yet, they are up and flying.  The problems Southwest had getting started are legendary, yet with a can do attitude it perservered and is now the most consistently profitable airline in the US.  Yes, there will always be those who see the glass as half empty, and those who see only a dirty glass.  Fortunately, the United States did not depend on the bean counters to develop into the great nation it is today.  No, this country was built by people like Weikle who see the glass as nearly full and have great vision.  People who look into the future and say why not.  It is also fortunate there are investors in this country with great vision to see opportunity where others do not.  These are the people that made America.  

New Horizons Project

Also, the runway at Yeager is now 6,800 feet with a 1,000 foot overrun as of April 2, 2007.

Yeager was built knocking down mountain tops.

When Yeager was built, the runways resulted from the leveling of mountain tops and filling in the valley.  Thus, who is to say it could not be expanded beyond its present 6800 feet with the extension capabilities we can engineer today.

Re: Yeager

Well, the geography of the area kind of limits what can be done for Yeager.

You've got a steep drop and a state park on the north side; a very steep drop and a river on the south side..

Yeager could probably expand a little more without running into any of these problems, but not by much. The costs associated with expanding from the top of a mountain would be very prohibitive.

If the LCC gets off the ground (pun intended), there will probably also be issues with infrastructure. Yeager just isn't set up to handle the influx of new passengers that might result from $10 fares.

No impact

It won't impact Skybus at all. By the time this airline starts, Skybus will be out of business.

Zing!

Haha... Could herz secretly be Michael Boyd??

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