Low-fare MAXjet considers MIA, FLL

All business-class carrier to London could make South Florida it's fifth U.S. gateway


The airline is also well positioned for growth, Neidl said. MAXjet recently received Department of Transportation approval to fly from any U.S. city to all EU Open Skies countries, starting March 30, 2008. That would give MAXjet flying rights to destinations such as India, Kuwait, Maldives, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

A China route is also potentially on the horizon. MAXjet has applied for service from Seattle to Shanghai in 2009 but has not yet received authority.

In line with expansion, the airline is likely to reach seven aircraft by year-end 2008 and eight by year-end 2009, Neidl forecasts. Planes flew 75.5 percent full in July, 83.1 percent full in June, and were up consecutively in each month during the second quarter, he said.

"As they enter new markets," Neidl said, "they seem to generate new traffic fairly quickly."

In fact, while MAXjet just issued its initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange's alternative market in June and has not yet released earnings, Neidl estimates the company will begin to make a profit in the first quarter of 2008.

NICHE MARKET

"They have a niche there," he said, "and as long as they can keep their cost structure down, they can serve a small, particular market."

Meanwhile, the airline is considering which South Florida airport would be best. Marks would not say which one he is leaning toward, adding that there are advantages at each.

"The question for any carrier is whether the infrastructure can support the number of flights introduced at the airport," he said. "It's challenging for airlines, and it's a difficult environment with delays and air traffic control congestion."

As a much larger airport, Miami has the infrastructure, but it is expensive to operate for a low-cost carrier, he said. Per passenger fees are currently $17.01.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, whose top priority is to gain a London route, currently charges airlines fees of $4.36 per passenger. But MAXjet would qualify for its incentive program, which would waive fees for a year.

"Those incentives are pretty critical to new launches today, and airports know that," said MAXjet spokesman Michael Miller.

Yet with so much recent international growth at Fort Lauderdale by Spirit Airlines, the airport's challenge is to find space for more international flights. It has only five gates -- all at Terminal 4 -- that can process internationally arriving passengers, with access to Customs and Border Protection.

Coincidentally, three of MAXjet's senior executives formerly worked for Miramar-based Spirit, which is now Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood's largest carrier.

Both MIA and the Fort Lauderdale airport confirmed that they have had discussions with the airline, cautioning that they were preliminary.

"We are one of the few large airports on the East Coast without nonstop flights to London," said Steve Belleme, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood's business development manager. "Hopefully we could find a way to accommodate them."

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