Start-up Elite Airways plans fleet growth in 2013

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Portland, Maine-based startup Elite Airways plans to add two more aircraft to its existing fleet of one Bombardier CRJ100 by early 2013, the carrier's president John Pearsall says.

Elite received its Part 121 air carrier permit from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on 1 November and wants to expand its operation to include scheduled air service in addition to the charter flights it operates today.

Elite's CRJ100 is an ex-Comair aircraft under lease, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online database. Comair, Delta's 50-seat subsidiary, ceased operations on 29 September after the airline decided to greatly reduce its 50-seat flying in favour of larger regional jets.

Since receiving its certificate, Elite Airways has been operating charter flights for several sports teams. Those flights originate out of the carrier's northern base at the Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine and its southern base in Melbourne, Florida. The airline plans to start scheduled flights by the first quarter of 2013.

Pearsall says the carrier plans to take delivery of an additional 50-seater Bombardier CRJ aircraft in late December. After that, the airline wants to add either a large regional aircraft such as the Bombardier CR700 or CRJ900, or a Boeing 737 or 757 aircraft. That decision depends on several criteria, including price, he says, adding that the larger aircraft would allow the airline to expand scheduled service to include new cities. Elite seeks to add this larger aircraft type by mid-January 2013.

Elite has entered into a marketing partnership with Melbourne International Airport to focus on bringing nonstop flights to the airport in key markets.

"We are definitely committed to providing service into Melbourne," says Pearsall.

The start-up says it wants to provide nonstop service between Melbourne and Northeast points such as Portland, Maine, Portsmouth International Airport in New Hampshire and Worcester Regional Airport in Massachusetts. The carrier is also looking at opportunities to fly to Niagara Falls and Plattsburgh, New York. The airline has talked to some of these Northeastern airports but has not engaged in serious discussions with them.

Elite is also eyeing Washington Dulles and Huntsville as potential destinations to fly to from Melbourne, citing the commercial spaceflight market as a potential driver for those city pairs. It has not initiated discussions with either airport.

Paul Bradbury, airport director at Portland International Jetport, says Orlando is the number three destination city for travellers coming through the airport and that no carriers offer non-stop service between the destinations now. Orlando is about 112km from Melbourne and Elite says it tops the list for its inaugural scheduled destination from Melbourne.