Mar. 1--Following months of planning, meetings and optimism, Middletown's municipal airport may not get its charter airline service after all.
SkyTaxi, the new-concept, appointment-style passenger service is not coming to Hook Field unless it finds a new chief pilot and 'significant financing.' Although the news Tuesday about the Findlay-based airline came as a shock to local airport employees and city officials, the manner in which it was delivered was even more surprising to city officials.
An e-mail early Tuesday morning signed by SkyTaxi's former chief pilot Charles Lewis stated the airline ceased operation Feb. 10 because of "grossly inadequate operating capital," among other causes.
However, SkyTaxi acting Chief Executive Officer Jim Wall said Tuesday night that Lewis was a former employee who left on unhappy circumstances, and that his e-mail did not originate from any company officials.
One thing in Lewis' e-mail was correct, Wall said: "The company needs money.
We need significant financing and without that relatively soon, it will not make it," Wall said.
SkyTaxi, which took flight in 2003, has been -- until recently -- expanding in the Midwest. SkyTaxi flies passengers to more than 550 airports in the United States.
SkyTaxi approached Middletown officials shortly after the city agreed to purchase all but one of the structures at Hook Field for $1.5 million in late July. Hook Field is home to about 100 aircraft and one corporate jet, which is owned by AK Steel Corp. The airport has more than 180,000 square feet of hangar space, and its 6,100-foot runway ranks as the fifth-longest in Ohio for noncommercial, nonmilitary airports.
In addition to seeing Middletown's location as important, SkyTaxi officials also sought the help of local investors to front them money to purchase an airplane.
That deal was signed last fall, however, a plane has yet to touch the ground at Hook Field since the company's ribbon-cutting in November 2005.
Should the company flop, those local businessmen who gave up $50,000 total may not being seeing their money again, Wall said.
"It means that if we don't get our financing, they can kiss their money goodbye," Wall said.
That thought -- and the lack of a heads-up from SkyTaxi -- does not sit well locally.
"That's a sorry way to do business," said Hook Field Manager Jimmy Jonson.
"Our investors are going to try to find out what went wrong." Wall said time is running out to find another chief pilot to replace Lewis -- per the company's requirements with the Federal Aviation Administration -- and gather enough cash to stay in business.
"The company needs financing," Wall said. "That's the limiting factor. And what that means is that if we don't get enough financing, it's not going to happen."