Dec. 27—The only commercial airline headquartered in Maine has stopped flying — and Elite Airways executives aren't talking about plans for the company, including whether it will resume service between the Northeast and Florida.
At least until recently, Elite offered low-cost flights to and from Portland International Jetport with stops at White Plains, New York; Newark, New Jersey; and Florida destinations Vero Beach and St. Augustine. The airline started in 2006 as a charter business and in 2014 began offering scheduled nonstop service between Maine, Washington, D.C., and Melbourne, Florida.
Over the years, Elite has served other destinations such as Chicago, Las Vegas ,and the Bahamas, with a fleet that once numbered over a dozen regional jet airliners. In 2019, Elite carried 24,000 passengers, according to federal records.
However, it appears the airline has quietly shut down much of its service.
Elite flights in and out of Vero Beach Regional Airport ceased Jon une 30, the Vero Beach Hometown News reported Thursday. On travel websites, numerous comments have complained of canceled Elite service in recent months. The airline's website no longer allows online bookings, and instead says the reservation system is getting an upgrade and maintenance. The site's flight status display is inactive.
Elite is no longer listed among the airlines that serve Portland on the jetport's website. The airport director, Paul Bradbury, did not immediately return a call seeking more information. Reservation agents said they can offer no flights on Elite for passengers, although one agent said the airline might resume flights in mid-March.
Repeated attempts to contact the airline were unsuccessful; phone calls to Elite's Portland Pier headquarters automatically went to voicemail and voicemail messages were not returned. Emails to Elite executives bounced back as undeliverable.
The Elite planes have dispersed without explanation. According to the website planespotters.net, all seven of the airline's current jets are parked — four in Tuscon, Arizona, one in Tennessee ,and two at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.
James Scheller, manager of the Auburn airport, said there are actually three Elite aircraft there: One is up on jacks, another has had its engines removed, and a third is undergoing an inspection that requires it to taxi in and out of a hangar. The plane with no engines, he said, is configured for cargo use. None of the planes could carry passengers to Auburn because the airport's runways are too short, he added.
Elite began leasing 27,000 square feet of hangar and office space in Auburn- Lewiston almost four years ago. The airline used the airport for maintenance and initially hoped to hire 100 employees there. Elite now owes seven months of back rent, totaling $69,300, according to Scheller.
Scheller said he recently told Elite's president, John Pearsall, that the airport plans to sue to enforce payment of the back rent.
Andy Bowden, an executive with Spectrum in South Portland, said he has a $1,600 credit from Elite that is expiring soon. He can't book a flight.
Bowden, his wife ,and his dog were booked to fly from Portland to Florida almost a year ago, until his wife contracted COVID two days before their scheduled departure. The airline gave him a credit. When he tried to book a flight this summer, agents told him they were redoing the company's reservations software and had no flights available.
"I've been trying to use my credit since July," Bowden said. Online, he encounters the message about the airline's reservation system being upgraded, "which I believe is a line of bunk. And when you call a live operator, she is sympathetic but can't really offer anything."
In Vero Beach, Elite is barred from flying until it pays the Florida city $6,600 in overdue fees and provides proof the airline's insurance has been renewed, according to the Hometown News.
Elite will issue a release about its plans in Vero Beach "right after New Year's," the newspaper said, quoting Pearsall.
But the airport director there, Todd Scher, said he was unaware of any plans for Elite's future service and hadn't heard from the airline president. "I have no idea what's going on," Scher told the newspaper. "He tells you something is in the works, then you don't hear anything."
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