A 19-month-old Northern Virginia company that planned to launch service this spring as the first U.S.-based low-cost airline to fly exclusively to international destinations is still parked at the gate, awaiting final approval from the federal government.
But Maxjet Airways Inc., known until recently as SkyLink Airways, has hired about 100 employees, replaced its chief executive, and set its sights on flying to Britain from Baltimore-Washington International Airport and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport sometime this fall.
The private, Dulles-based company is promising "industry-leading fares" even for last-minute travelers, according to its Web site. No specific fares are given, but the company has told regulators it will sell economy and business-class tickets at 15 to 70 percent cheaper than those of traditional carriers.
Maxjet has received initial approval from the Transportation Department, which evaluates the economic health of prospective airlines, to fly wide-body jets to Britain and 14 other countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Chile and Taiwan -- destinations the airline has announced no immediate plans to serve.
But the company is awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which focuses on safety issues.
"Maxjet is still in the certification process," FAA spokesman Les Dorr said yesterday. "We can't speculate on when they will get their certificate. But they are working on it. I would stress that the issues that have to be worked out are not at all unusual."
Joshua B. Marks, Maxjet executive, co-founder and part owner, said the company needs to submit FAA and Transportation Department paperwork and complete "proving runs" that will test the safety of its first aircraft, a leased Boeing 767-200ER.
"We expect to complete FAA certification in the near future," Marks said yesterday.
Maxjet has told government regulators it initially plans daily service from the Baltimore and New York airports to Stansted Airport, about 40 miles north of central London. Maxjet also hopes to operate an Orlando-JFK-Stansted route on a seasonal basis. Stansted -- a base for European low-cost airlines such as Ryanair -- offers service to about 150 destinations.
Maxjet also is considering international flights from Dulles and Boston, said Marks, who stepped down as the company's president in April to become its vice president of planning and corporate development.
The delayed start-up means Maxjet will miss out on the summer travel season, traditionally the most lucrative for transatlantic carriers. Like its year-old, Dulles-based neighbor, Independence Air -- a low-cost carrier that serves only domestic routes -- Maxjet picked a rough time to start an airline, with jet fuel selling at historically high prices.
Marks declined to say how many aircraft the company would lease initially. "We are evaluating our fleet plans based on fuel prices, market demand and other issues," he said.
The company, which also plans to offer charter service, expects to announce its first routes and fares later this summer, said Marks, a former associate director of the George Washington University Aviation Institute.
On April 27, SkyLink told the Transportation Department it had renamed itself Maxjet to avoid a trademark dispute with a Canadian travel firm known as SkyLink Aviation Inc.
The company also disclosed that co-founder and part-owner Kenneth T. Carlson had stepped down as chief executive to focus on fundraising for the company. Carlson, a former high-ranking executive with several airlines, remained a member of the board, the company said. He could not be reached for comment. Maxjet named Gary Rogliano, former chairman of TransPacific Capital Corp., a financial services firm, to replace Carlson.
Marks stepped down as president to "focus more time on the challenging planning issues . . . and on the strategic airline partnerships that will be a part of the Company's marketing program," the letter to the Transportation Department said. Marks declined to comment yesterday on the management changes.