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Pan Am cancels flights for 2 months

The airline that flies into St. Petersburg-Clearwater plans to cut back fuel costs by suspending service Sept. 6 through Nov. 16.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published August 13, 2005


Sky-high fuel prices will ground the Pan Am Clipper Connection between Labor Day weekend and the Thanksgiving holiday, the airline said Friday.

The decision disappointed officials at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, where Pan Am has seven scheduled roundtrip flights each week and is the second-largest carrier.

Boston-Maine Airways of Portsmouth, N.H., Pan Am's parent company, noted in a statement that September and October are traditionally slow months for airline bookings.

Suspending service from Sept. 6 through Nov. 16 is "a smart business decision so we may best serve our customers during peak travel periods," the company said. Officials did not elaborate or say how Pan Am will deal with customers holding tickets for canceled flights.

Spiking fuel costs, combined with low fares, are bleeding even the biggest airlines, said Jeff Clauss, director of marketing at the airport.

"This may not be a popular decision for the traveling public, especially those with tickets," he said. "It was clearly a business decision. These are times unseen before in the industry."

The airline's reservations number (toll-free 1-800-359-7262) will likely be jammed, Clauss said. Customers who paid for canceled flights with plastic can contact credit card companies to get charges taken off their bills.

This is just the latest bad news for Boston-Maine. The Transportation Department's inspector general opened an inquiry last week into the company's filing of false financial documents with the federal agency.

Boston-Maine revealed last month that former general counsel John Nadolny altered a bank statement intended to show how much working capital the company had available. The falsified amount also was reflected in a balance sheet submitted to the Transportation Department.

Nadolny resigned June 3 after admitting responsibility for a phony surety bond that was supposed to guarantee payment of a $320,000 lawsuit settlement with former pilots.

Last year, Boston-Maine moved its three Boeing 727 jets into a nonunion affiliate and fired about 35 pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association. The union has asked the Transportation Department to revoke the company's operating certificate, alleging that management has consistently failed to comply with federal and state regulations.

A union spokesman said Friday the suspension of flights calls into question whether Boston-Maine has the financial resources to keep flying. "If their financial position is so marginal that they cannot maintain scheduled service, this would further support our assessment that the carrier is unfit to operate," said spokesman John Mazor.

Boston-Maine hopes to keep flying the jets over the two months as charters for tour operators, groups or other entities, Clauss said.

Pan Am Clipper Connection began flying at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International in June and has four weekly flights to Columbus, Ohio; two to Newburgh, N.Y.; and one to Sanford, outside of Orlando.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater International lost its two dominant carriers when Largo-based Southeast Airlines closed after Thanksgiving last year and bankrupt ATA Airlines pulled out in April. The airlines carried 70 percent of the airport's passengers last year.

[Last modified August 13, 2005, 01:21:17]


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