Fort Lauderdale Airport may boot Chalk's: Chalk's International Airlines said it plans to catch up on its rent at Fort Lauderdale- Hollywood International Airport before Broward County commissioners

Oct. 20--Chalk's International Airlines has lost a key operating license and faces a vote next week on whether it could lose its lease at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

These twin actions come less than two years after a crash killed 20 people and put the company's safety record in question.

After the crash, the company faced an uncertain future and it does not have any planes approved to fly.

On Tuesday, Broward County Commissioners will vote on whether to terminate the lease with the airline for space in Terminal 4.

The company owed Broward County more than $16,000 for the lease and other fees, the county said. On Friday afternoon, Chalk's paid $14,000 and told the county the balance would be paid Monday.

But airport officials will still ask commissioners to terminate the lease.

"We have another tenant who is currently at the airport who would like to use that counter space," said Greg Meyer, an airport spokesman. "They're in Terminal 4 and that's very precious space. For Chalk's to delay payment and not operate an aircraft and to hold a ticket counter doesn't make sense for anybody."

Chalk's has not had any flights since Sept. 3, but Rajan Nair, the general manager and director of operations for the airline, said the company traditionally stops flying during September and October and will begin flying 19-seat turbo-prop airplanes in November with a lease arrangement for another company to provide the service.

The airline has not operated its own airplanes since the crash, instead using lease agreements with other companies.

Nair said the airline, which had flown from Fort Lauderdale into Bimini and the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, will fight to keep its space at the airport.

"We've been there forever," said Nair, who said the airline first rented space there in 1982. "That's our home base. We've been a tenant over 25 years."

A Chalk's seaplane crashed into the sea off Miami Beach Dec. 19, 2005, shortly after taking off from Watson Island. Twenty people died aboard the flight headed to Bimini.

The company grounded its fleet of four G-73T Mallard's after the crash and the Federal Aviation Administration issued an order prohibiting the same type of plane from flying.

"We are not going to go out of business," Nair said. "Like all the airlines we're struggling, no question about it. . . . A lot of people expected us to go out of business after the crash, and we're still here."

The company is in the process of leasing an Embraer 120 30-passenger plane, which will be operated by Chalk's pilots and crew, Nair said. But the process could take several months.

Once that occurs, the airline would have to go through a reinspection process of the whole operation, including the plane, pilots and crew before flying, said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

"At this point they don't have aircraft to operate," she said. "At such time as they obtain other aircraft, we'd go through a revalidation process."

The airline still has limited authority to fly under its air taxi license, Nair said. After the crash, the company continued operations to the Bahamas through a lease agreement with Montana-based Big Sky Airlines, which operated the flights.

It no longer has a lease agreement with Big Sky, Nair said.

On Sept. 26, the Department of Transportation issued an order revoking the airline's commuter authorization, saying it had neither gotten additional planes in order to fly or brought its seaplanes into compliance with FAA regulations.

The airline can still operate as an air taxi, as long as another carrier is providing the service.

Operating as an air taxi means the airline could make four round-trip flights a week to each destination served, Bergen said.

To see more of The Miami Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2007, The Miami Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.