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Tue, Jun 19, 2012

Massport Propped Up Marginal Airline With Over $1.1 Million

Subsidies Paid Over Three Years To Direct Air For Worcester Operation

The Massachusetts Port Authority reportedly spent more than $1.1 million to support Direct Air, the only commercial air service operating from Worcester Regional Airport.

The airline's parent company, Southern Sky Air and Tours LLC, a charter service based in Myrtle Beach, SC, filed for bankruptcy March 15th. The move led to Direct Air passengers being stranded at multiple airports around the country. Court documents show the company had between $10 and $50 million in debt against only as much as $1 million in assets.

Internal Massport documents including e-mails obtained by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette indicate that Massport most recently paid for radio and television advertising for Direct Air. That payment was nearly $56,000 in July of last year.

But in an e-mail sent to then-state Secretary of Transportation Jefferey B. Mullan from Massport interim chief executive David Mackey just before making that payment, Mackey says that the airline is running "on a shoestring." A later e-mail outlines Direct Air's failure to make any payments to Massport, and that it also was not paying its ground handling company.

While port and state officials up to the Lt. Governor said in a recent interview with the paper that they knew the airline was struggling, they were "stunned" when the company filed for Chapter 11 protection and left travelers stranded at Worcester and other airports. They said they were "nurturing" the airline with Massport money which was matching an FAA grant.

FMI: www.massport.com, www.visitdirectair.com

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