Young Dakota Carrier may be out of Business

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A regional air service launched with a $1.25 million federal grant and support from the City Commission may be out of business.

Point2Point officials have been unreachable, although one University of North Dakota official says he has seen employees at its office in Grand Forks.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission, which hired two Point2Point planes to fly commissioners and staff to a May 7 hearing in Langdon, received a terse e-mail message Monday canceling the flights, Commissioner Kevin Cramer said.

On Monday, the company's phone numbers were out of service, commission aide Tom Rafferty said. Cramer said the commission had used the company's services earlier for trips to Williston and Devils Lake.

Bismarck City Administrator Bill Wocken said he had been trying to reach Point2Point since last Thursday, after The Associated Press inquired about the company's operations. He said Monday he has still been unable to reach the airline.

'I don't want to presume something,' Wocken said. 'I can't answer questions until I get some answers ... It's of concern, certainly.'

The company had promised to open a Bismarck station by March 31, Wocken said. He said he drove around the Bismarck airport last week to try to find it.

'I didn't see it, but I may have been looking in the wrong place,' Wocken said.

Point2Point Airways founder John Boehle did not respond to telephone calls and an e-mail from The Associated Press. Telephone calls to the airline's reservation system were not returned.

Jan Steiner, who was hired as a station manager in Bismarck, hung up last week when asked by the AP about the airline's status.

Point2Point promised speedy, efficient air travel for businesses in the Upper Midwest, using a fleet of small planes headquartered in Bismarck.

Less than $50,000 remains of the $1.25 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant money that was funneled through the city, Wocken said. Point2Point is required to match the grant.

'The lion's share has been given to them,' Wocken said.

The Bismarck City Commission awarded the airline the federal grant in 2005 to help begin the service. It was the largest contract among $90 million doled out to 182 projects across the country since 2002, the agency said.

Bismarck airport manager Greg Haug said the company had parked one of its planes at an airport hangar in February and March. He said the plane was removed April 11.

'So far this year, there have been 29 fuelings, but we haven't seen any since April 12,' Haug said.

Niles Hushka, former chairman of the Bismarck-Mandan Development Association, said he wrote the application to get the federal money for Point2Point, but he did not know its status.

'I have heard a lot of rumors but I've seen no facts,' Hushka said Monday. 'It was a demonstration project, and if it failed, it demonstrated that it was not feasible.'

Bruce Gjovig, director of the University of North Dakota's Center for Innovation, said Point2Point still has an office at the center in Grand Forks.

He said he had seen employees at the office last week and believed the company was still in business and had met conditions of its grant contract with the city of Bismarck.

'They are searching for capital,' Gjovig said. 'They still have airplanes.'

Gjovig said the center helped the airline during its startup phase.

Brent Seifert, president of Grand Forks-based GFK Flight Support, said his company filed a lien against one of Point2Point's airplanes in April for $20,000 in unpaid maintenance, fuel and hangar fees. Seifert said Point2Point paid the debt last week.

'They have cleared up the account with us,' Seifert said.

North Dakota invested more than $200,000 in the Point2Point plan, and NASA put in $350,000. The city of Bismarck was given $250,000 to study the idea.

Point2Point said in December that it had 10 employees and had performed more than 440 flights in North Dakota and in some neighboring states in 2006. It reported that it had five single-engine, three-passenger airplanes.

The airline had promised to open a headquarters building in Bismarck more than a year ago. In billing statements, the company said it spent $32,495 for a 'launch event' last May in Bismarck.

Charter airline operators in the state have called Point2Point a waste of taxpayers' money.

'It's a real travesty,' Seifert said. 'Where did the money go and how has it been justified?'

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