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Skybus Predicts Rosy Financial Future

As Columbus' start-up airline Skybus prepares to begin flying later this month, its president answered questions from city council members Tuesday afternoon. The city is providing $14 million in incentives for the low-cost, low-fare carrier.

Council president Mike Mentel says he called the meeting at Port Columbus to get an update on the fledgling airline's progress.

"This airport reflects the growth of our city, Mentel says. "How do we continue to grow and prosper Columbus and not only make ourselves marketable throughout the country and the world but also bring the market and the world to us. One of those critical elements is Skybus."

While the meeting was going on, one of Skybus's two passenger jets, an Airbus 319, was somewhere between Los Angeles and Port Columbus on an FAA proving run, according to Skybus president Ken Gile.

"This is our first aircraft," Gile says. "The 'Spirit of Columbus' is painted on it. The FAA is putting us through our paces so arrival time is not guaranteed at a certain time."Gile could not say when the plane would be back, but he did predict a rosy future for the discount carrier which begins hauling passengers May 22nd. He also predicted tremendous economic benefits would flow into central Ohio over time.

"The local impact will be about $1 billion at the end of our third year of operation; the spending by the 5.3 million additional passengers at Port Columbus. Those are new passengers that would not have flown before," Gile says.

With a limited number of $10 fares on each flight, Skybus says just about everyone could afford a flight to somewhere. Along with the city's $14 million, Port Columbus is providing another $27 million and the State of Ohio nearly $16 million dollars. In addition, Gile says Skybus has raised $160 million from other sources.

"Our montage banker in New York has informed us that we have raised more money for start-up than any airline ever," Gile says. "What that does is give us a stable airline; to begin to operate with new airplanes. And be able [to be] a serious business in Columbus."

In spite of all the backing, Columbus resident John Manning, one of a handful of spectators who attended the meeting, wondered afterward if Skybus could stay in the air as energy prices soar.

"I was curious to know how they're going to maintain themselves as a discount airline as the cost of fuel increases," Manning says. "Apparently we're on the way to $4-a-gallon gasoline. What's going to happen to the airline's low fare policy once the price of fuel becomes out of sight?"

The president of Skybus says he's confident however, even though he and the other airlines are flying into uncharted territory. Gile says all the airlines face higher fuel prices, so that he says, makes a level playing field.