Another contender for the title of 'best-financed' US start-up airline has emerged; this one is Skybus, a would-be 'ultra-low fares' carrier based at Columbus, Ohio. In the planning since the late 1990s, the carrier recently told the Transportation Department that it had raised almost $70 million more, for a total of "approximately $160 million in paid in capital plus assets of about $100 million". That would rival very similar amounts at JetBlue ($130 million) and at Virgin America ($177.3 million). Skybus announced an Airbus order last year worth up to $4 billion. Its most recent Transportation Department filing says that Skybus might be able to start service in May, although it has yet to name its destinations. The carrier has won DoT clearance to start flying but has yet to gain its equally important FAA start-up permission, and has had to ask the DoT not to suspend or withdraw its permission while it waits for FAA permission. The DoT set a time limit on its new carrier licenses after it found some hopefuls dallying too long or trying to raise more money.
Whether or not Skybus can gain FAA approval by May is an open question; it submitted its flight operations plan to the agency in December, and six months would be a very fast time. But the carrier has two Airbus A319s with 150 seats waiting and ready to go, has former executives from Southwest and Ryanair on the payroll and ready to go, and has an $8 million concourse on the Port Columbus airport ready to go, having received a $57 million incentives package from the city and from Central Ohio business leaders including the family that controls the local newspaper. Skybus can't sell tickets until its gets the FAA permission, so it has no revenue coming in, although its has an active marketing campaign featuring its symbol, a butterfly. It calls the butterfly "the universal symbol of low fares".
When it does start flights at Columbus, it will face the entrenched competition of Southwest, with a 23% share of the market, Delta (19%) and American (13%). The city, which is the state capitol and an increasingly prosperous finance centre, was stung by the America West downsizing of its secondary hub there in 2003, and has seen a 2% average annual growth rate, according to a late March Fitch Ratings report on bonds issue by the Columbus regional airport authority.