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Airline proposal losing ground

January 19, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Anyone with questions about plans for a new airline in Martinsburg might have a problem getting answers.

The phone line has been disconnected for the company that has proposed a multimillion dollar plan to turn Berkeley County into the main hub for an airline that would make daily flights to 20 major cities.

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Samuel DeLee, president of the Fairlea, W.Va.-based Corporate Assets Resources Development, pitched plans for the new airline last Thursday to the Berkeley County Commission in hopes the county would back his request for a $4.5 million bond.

The bond would be part of a $141.5 million package that includes the takeover of the Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran and using the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport as the main hub for a passenger airline, DeLee had said.

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The proposed airline, under the new name Skyy Airlines, would make daily, nonstop flights to cities within 500 miles of Martinsburg, including Atlanta, New York, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Kansas City.

The plan includes $132 million for the buyout of AirTran - the airline that merged with ValuJet in 1997 - and the construction of a new 10,000-square-foot terminal and 351-acre headquarters in Berkeley County. DeLee said the new airline initially would create about 120 jobs in the Martinsburg area and a total of 520 jobs over the next five years.

AirTran officials in Orlando have declined comment on DeLee's proposal.

The proposal has been met with excitement in Berkeley County but has also raised questions by those who wonder how DeLee would raise the money for his plan.

Attempts to call Corporate Assets Resources Development were met Monday afternoon with a recording informing the caller that the number has been disconnected and that no further information was available on the number.

A call to the same number last Friday resulted in an answering machine message that confirmed the phone number but did not identify the number as Corporate Assets Resources Development.

DeLee, who has yet to make a formal proposal to the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority, said last Thursday he planned to return to the Berkeley County Commission within the next 30 days for an answer on his bond request.

DeLee said his company would be responsible for repayment of the bond and added Berkeley County would not be taking any financial risks by authorizing the bond.

Robert T. Crawford, the executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, said Monday he had not talked with DeLee since last week's presentation and said he has not scheduled any future meetings with DeLee.

"The ball was in his court," he said.

Crawford said it would be inappropriate to speculate on why DeLee's phone was disconnected but said he was still encouraged by DeLee's idea.

"If he is able to pull the financing off for this thing it could be a great benefit for this entire area," he said.

Berkeley County Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart said it will be up to DeLee to make the next move on the airline proposal.

Burkhart, who is a member of the Airport Authority, called DeLee's proposal "exciting" but said he has "a million questions about it."

One question, said Burkhart, is where DeLee plans to put 50 100-passenger DC-9 jets at the Martinsburg airport.

Burkhart said DeLee would have to meet with the Airport Authority to discuss the plan further. No date has been set for any meetings, he said.

An official with the West Virginia Economic Development Office said the state will take a closer look DeLee's plan this week.

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