Flights to resort off for summer

Simmons Air is seeking new partner for service between BWI, Ocean City

March 29, 2006|By MEREDITH COHN | MEREDITH COHN,SUN REPORTER

Simmons Air, the small startup airline that briefly flew between Baltimore and Ocean City last year, will remain grounded at least through the summer as its namesake founder tries to cement an agreement with a new partner to supply an airplane and pilots.

In the meantime, Wayne Simmons, the founder and president, faces lawsuits from several former employees who haven't been paid since November, just before the airline stopped flying from the general aviation terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Ocean City Municipal Airport.

Simmons says he expects to sign an agreement in the fall with Cape Air, a private, Massachusetts-based airline that flies nine-seat Cessna 402s in small markets in New England, Florida, the Caribbean and Micronesia.

A Cape Air spokeswoman confirmed that the airline was in talks early in the year and will likely begin the discussions again in September, after its busy season.

The delay is the latest in a string of disappointments for Simmons, who now must wait out the busy tourist season in the Eastern Shore resort town.

"We ran out of time," Simmons said. "It's very important people understand this is only a delay. We're all on the same page. It's an unfortunate delay."

Simmons acknowledged owing about $50,000 to about 20 of the 30 employees he once had. Three have filed lawsuits to collect, according to court records. Employees who filed the lawsuits either did not respond to requests for comment or could not be located.

Simmons said he paid salaries out of pocket for a time after the airline stopped flying, but could no longer afford to do so. He said he lost more than $1 million on charter flights he provided from Baltimore once his airline ceased flying. Simmons said he plans to pay his workers once the airline is flying again and producing an income.

The service was grounded in December when Simmons discovered his previous partner was not properly licensed for the airline's size. Simmons does not hold a license to operate an airline on his own.

Simmons had thought the new deal, which he expected to be signed this year, would have helped put the airline back on track.

Money was a main reason that negotiations were not completed with Cape Air before the busy summer season in Ocean City, he said. The federal Department of Transportation required Simmons to post a $200,000 bond to fly, but he could not secure one in time.

The airline, he said, was popular in its brief life from September to December. He charged $45 one way to start and said the planes generally were about 60 percent full. It was the only scheduled service to Ocean City from BWI.

"Nothing is going to happen now because we're off and running with our busy season," said Michelle Haynes, a spokeswoman for Cape Air. "We did have some back and forth [with Simmons] but there were some things that needed to be ironed out."

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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