Thursday, January 21, 2016

Northeast Airline's Stewart International Airport (KSWF) plans still up in the air

AJ Rossi, the man who would bring a new airline to an airport starved for passenger service, admits his enthusiasm for the project has perhaps overtaken his discretion.

“I didn’t want to sit in the bushes,’’ said Rossi in an interview. “I wanted people to get used to the idea we were bringing the Yellowbirds back.”

But the entrepreneur, whose LinkedIn profile lists a history of executive posts at now-defunct airlines, conceded his Volare Air Group’s announcement about its plans for Stewart International Airport were “vague” and “premature.”

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Stewart, has had no comment on the plans.

Volare, a privately held Indiana corporation with addresses in Chicago and Clearwater, Fla., announced last week that it had selected Stewart as the operations hub for its revival of Northeast Airlines and had “cut teeth in moving this commitment to fruition” with the Port Authority.

Northeast dominated the Boston and New England markets until 1972, when it fell on hard times and merged with Delta Air Lines – and parked its fleet of distinctive yellow- and black-trimmed “Yellowbirds.”

Rossi, the president and CEO of Volare, explained that he couldn’t elaborate on his plans because the company is in the “middle of the acquisition of another carrier with a large fleet of equipment” and had signed a nondisclosure agreement.

“These are private negotiations,’’ said Rossi. “They’re not known on the street.”

Any other details, he continued, could reveal the identity of the carrier and put the deal at risk.

The purchase, however, would give Volare planes – it doesn’t own any now – and would move it toward securing U.S. Department of Transportation economic authority and Federal Aviation Administration certification to operate an airline. The DOT vets the finances of prospective carriers as a predicate for the FAA’s certification process.

“We don’t want to just bring passenger service to Stewart,’’ said Rossi. “We want to bring freight operations to Stewart as well.”

Volare’s air and ground freight arm is known as Yellow Freight and Cargo. Rossi acquired the name after the motor carrier morphed into YRC. Similarly, the U.S. Patent Office has approved his use of Northeast’s trademarks. 
(And, yes, yellow will be the signature color of both the passenger and freight services.)

Rossi declined to provide any details about Volare’s capitalization but said it had the money for the acquisition and hadn’t determined if it would need to raise more for operations.

He also declined to discuss Northeast’s prospective schedule at Stewart, suggesting it would first have some flights to honor as part of the pending acquisition.

But he added that he wants to capture the Hudson Valley market that travels to the New York City airports in search of more destinations and better fares.

“The industry could use some new competition and the public could use a break,’’ said Rossi.

Volare, which had also been considering the Niagara Falls International Airport for its Northeast hub, still has that airport “on the radar’’ for passenger service, Rossi said.

Its plans to relaunch another subsidiary, Grace Airways, from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport in Alabama, are on hold pending an evaluation of the market there. Volare wants to revive Grace, a former joint venture of Pan Am and the W.R. Grace Co., as an international carrier.

Douglas Hartmayer, a spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and Toni Herrara-Bast, a spokeswoman for the Birmingham airport, both described Volare’s inquiries as “very preliminary” and no different than the routine discussions they have with prospective carriers on a regular basis.

Rossi said he was hard-pressed to speculate on a “transitional timeline” for completing the acquisition, reaching an agreement with the Port Authority and starting operations at Stewart.

“We’re doing a walk-through (at Stewart) next week and we’ll start nail down the brass tacks, like ticket counter space, on this then,’’ said Rossi.


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