Last-Minute Call May Save Deal to Bring Charter-Style Airlines to Middletown Municipal Airport

Oct. 1--An 11th-hour phone call from a Middletown city official on Friday may have saved the deal to bring a charter-style airline to Middletown Municipal Airport.

Officials from SkyTaxi NE Inc. earlier this week said Middletown-area businesses would have until Friday to come up with $50,000, a payment that would not only show financial commitment, but resolve to use the airline as well. An official deadline to raise the $50,000 had not been set since the airline contacted the city in July.

SkyTaxi Chairman Ray Morrow said Monday, however, that the deal had already taken long enough.

In addition, SkyTaxi officials and area businesses were expected to hold a meeting Friday morning, but that session fell though because of lack of interest, Morrow said.

"We had planned for it (the meeting in Middletown). ... But it didn't happen," Morrow said Friday morning. "So, (the deal) might not happen. We have to have a champion. We need somebody there to invest, but we don't." But even though a private investor had not contacted SkyTaxi officials, Middletown Development Services Director David Duritsch did late Friday, essentially keeping the deal alive, Morrow said.

"We talked to the city and they said they would get the money by next week," Morrow said.

Added Mike DalPonte, chief executive officer of the Southeast Region of SkyTaxi and Morrow's business partner: "David (Duritsch) said that yes, they've got them (an investor) now. And we told them that we would be available if they found the investor. If they have done that, then we're in business." Duritsch could not be reached for comment Friday.

But DalPonte also said Friday: "Ray and I are going to continue to march on" in search of additional locations to land a similar deal. "We may have to say, 'Maybe later (to the Middletown deal).' It has always been on a first-come first-serve basis." SkyTaxi, which took flight in 2003, is a "new-concept" passenger airline expanding in the Midwest. With aircraft in Indiana, Michigan and now five Ohio cities, the company is looking to land in the southwest Ohio area, DalPonte said.

SkyTaxi flies passengers to more than 550 airports in the U.S. The company will fly anywhere within 500 miles of its departure city, company officials have said.

Throughout the process of looking for a new home in southwest Ohio, Morrow has said two other area airports also are being considered along with Middletown's Hook Field: Butler County Regional Airport in Hamilton and Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport in Springfield.

The recent move by SkyTaxi has officials in both cities hopeful, but cautious. In Hamilton's case, members of city council said they would welcome the air taxi service to their city.

"I would think the council would be very open-minded about considering that," Hamilton Councilwoman Kathy Becker said. "But I just wouldn't want the city of Hamilton to do anything that would negatively affect Middletown.

I would want to make sure that Middletown's options with (SkyTaxi) have fully passed." Added Becker, "In a way, if Middletown fails, Hamilton fails, too, because we're both (located) in Butler County." Vicki Harley, airport manager at Springfield-Beckley Municipal, said any new business would be good for the Springfield airport, especially one that includes a plan like SkyTaxi's.

When SkyTaxi contacted Springfield -- about the same time Middletown was initially considered -- officials there began looking for investors, Springfield Economic Development Director Tom Franzen said.

"For us, it was like, if the private market would drive it, we as a municipality would support it," Franzen said. "But if the market wasn't supporting it, we would probably not." Officials from Springfield, Hamilton and Middletown all agree SkyTaxi could provide a boost to their local economy and, at the least, serve as a consistent user of airport services like hangar space and fuel supplies.

Meanwhile, SkyTaxi has set up flight deals with two other Ohio airports: Van Wert County Airport in VanWert and Marion Municipal Airport. Service at Marion will begin in January, Morrow said.

DalPonte said he and Morrow will spend this weekend at the ready in case a local investor is found.

"I think Middletown has done their homework and is a little further ahead (of Hamilton and Springfield) right now," he said. "We're at the disposal of the folks in Middletown."

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