Originally created 08/14/97

Air South has a rough summer



COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The summer has not been kind to Air South and the prospects don't look good for the rest of the year.

Air South failed to make a profit in June and July and mandatory maintenance checks scheduled this fall mean the 3-year-old Columbia-based airline won't have a full fleet of aircraft again until December.

The airline went into the summer with all seven aircraft available for the first time in months. But a freak incident at Columbia Metropolitan Airport last month put one plane out of commission for almost three weeks. That meant the carrier hit the peak of the summer travel season shorthanded, The (Columbia) State reported Wednesday.

"It's very disappointing to us," said Tom Volz, vice president of marketing. "This was caused by factors beyond our control."

Air South says flying seven planes is crucial to making a profit under its route structure.

"What we're saying now is, so much for seven airplanes," Volz said. "We need to focus on cutting costs and hunkering down."

The carrier plans to reduce the number of daily flights from 56 to 50 starting Friday. The affected flights will be daily nonstops from Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Columbia to Chicago Midway.

Three days after the Columbia incident, a service truck at Kennedy International Airport in New York backed into an Air South jet, denting the plane's skin and sidelining it for 24 hours.

Air South Vice President Dennis Crosby said the airplane was fixed but damage could total $80,000.

Air South is haggling with Columbia airport officials about what caused the July 18 incident that damaged a door on a jet only a month after the plane was added to the fleet.

The question is whether technology or operator error is to blame.

A jetway, the long corridor that carries passengers to the plane, knocked the door out of whack. That meant the fuselage wouldn't pressurize correctly.

The airplane couldn't fly commercially for 18 days because of heavy workloads at many maintenance facilities across the country, Air South said.

Volz said the airline lost revenues of about $600,000 because of the faulty door. Crosby said lost revenue, direct damage to the plane, the cost of rerouting customers and other factors could push the total to more than $1 million.

Airport Executive Director Bob Waddle said insurance adjusters are checking Air South's claims. He wouldn't put an estimate on the damage.

Crosby said Air South has had some positives in the past two months. Bookings were high, and planes have been filled to 70 percent capacity, he said.

However, schedule reliability held at 90 percent, Volz said. That's 7.5 percent below the airline's goals at the beginning of the summer.