Air­line grounds fleet; air­port tab un­paid

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - NOEL OMAN

Of­fi­cials at Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton Na­tional Air­port/ Adams Field want GLO Air­lines to suc­ceed, but at the same time they look askance at the nearly $100,000 in un­paid bills the startup New Or­leans-based air­line has left at the air­port.

The con­cern comes as the air­line in­def­i­nitely sus­pends ser­vice to­day at Clin­ton Na­tional and sev­eral Gulf Coast air­ports while it says it will try to find an­other com­pany to pro­vide crew and main­te­nance ser­vices for the fleet of three Saab twin- en­gine com­muter air­craft the air­line leases.

GLO of­fers direct flights be­tween New Or­leans and other lo­ca­tions in the re­gion, in­clud­ing the Lit­tle Rock air­port. It also of­fers sea­sonal flights be­tween Lit­tle Rock and Fort Wal­ton Beach/Destin, Fla.

Clin­ton Na­tional took pre­cau­tions when GLO be­gan ser­vice in 2015, pri­mar­ily re­quir­ing GLO to pay a de­posit equal to two or three months of op­er­a­tion, which at the time air­port of­fi­cials es­ti­mated at $44,000.

That whit­tle’s the air­line’s out­stand­ing bills to just un­der $50,000, but about $38,000 of that amount is con­trolled by a bank­ruptcy pe­ti­tion the air­line filed in April. The to­tal amount out­stand­ing and not pro­tected by the bank­ruptcy pe­ti­tion is $11,650.

If the air­line re­sumes ser­vice, Clin­ton Na­tional will re­quire it to pay down those bills first and re­place the de­posit, said Ron Mathieu, the air­port’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

“For now, we con­tinue to work with them and to en­cour­age them to do all they can be­cause they had a suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion here,” he said. “But at the same time, we tell them, ‘Oh, by the way, there is this money there that be­longs to us and can you make a de­posit to­day.’ This is the busi­ness end of it. This is how we keep our lights on.”

Mathieu spoke at a meet­ing Fri­day of the Lit­tle Rock Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port Com­mis­sion’s fi­nance com­mit­tee.

He and other air­port of­fi­cials say they will have lit­tle re­course in col­lect­ing about $38,000 of the bal­ance GLO owes be­cause it was out­stand­ing be­fore the air­line filed for bank­ruptcy in April. Past ex­pe­ri­ence shows that the air­port may col­lect no more than 15 per­cent of that amount.

GLO filed for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion amid a con­trac­tual dis­pute be­tween the air­line and a Ten­nessee com­pany, Cor­po­rate Flight Man­age­ment, which pro­vides pilots and other ser­vices to the air­line. An emer­gency hear­ing al­lowed the air­line to con­tinue fly­ing.

But prob­lems have con­tin­ued with “an ex­ces­sive num­ber” of flight can­cel­la­tions be­cause of staffing and main­te­nance prob­lems, GLO said Tues­day.

Cor­po­rate Flight Man­age­ment, for its part, said it has fol­lowed the emer­gency court or­der in op­er­at­ing GLO’s flights, and the air­line had no one to blame but it­self for its fi­nan­cial woes, “the re­sult of an un­proven busi­ness plan in an un­for­giv­ing in­dus­try.”

Clin­ton Na­tional and other small air­ports have been bank­ing on the suc­cess of star­tups such as GLO and Al­le­giant Air, which try to serve mar­kets the big­ger com­mer­cial car­ri­ers ig­nore.

To save money, their flights typ­i­cally are on smaller air­craft such as the pro­pel­ler-driven planes GLO flies or, in the case of both air­lines, of­fered only on a sea­sonal ba­sis at times when they are the most pop­u­lar.

Though GLO and Al­le­giant are a small slice of the over­all pas­sen­ger pie at Clin­ton Na­tional, they have helped pro­pel its pas­sen­ger traf­fic higher, ap­pear­ing to halt a years­long de­cline.

Pas­sen­ger traf­fic through June 30 rose 2.1 per­cent com­pared with the first six months of 2016, to 991,620.

GLO car­ried a to­tal of 7,968 pas­sen­gers through June 30, but com­pared with the same pe­riod last year, it rep­re­sented a 25.5 per­cent in­crease, ac­cord­ing to air­port fig­ures.

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