City of Columbus To Give $14 Million To Start-Up Airline

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It’s expected by next spring there will be another airline from which to choose at Port Columbus. State and local officials plan to give $57 million in tax dollars to help launch Skybus.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman announced today the city will provide $14 million in incentives for the launch of the new Skybus airline. The airline will get the money through tax credits, grants, loans and performance incentives. Coleman predicts more than a thousand jobs will be created. While he said not all hires will be local, they will still benefit the area.

“When they come and move in the city of Columbus, they are still a part of our community. They will buy a house. They’ll pay taxes. And they’ll help support the infrastructure and the basic city services that we so need in this community,” Coleman said.

In recent years major airlines have teetered in the red. America West pulled its hub out of Port Columbus. And small start-up airlines have set up in Columbus, only to pull out in a short time. Coleman acknowledged Skybus is a risky business venture.

“There’s no guarantee that we’ll get up in the morning and survive that day. I can tell you though that it’s worth doing,” Coleman said.

Skybus CEO Bill Diffenderffer said the airline has raised more than $100 million, with 80 percent from Wall Street investors. Diffenderffer admitted the airline would not have received that money without local and state dollars.

“Absolutely not. We would not have gotten the money unless we could show that the people of the state, the city, were strongly behind Columbus. That’s a huge advantage for us. Wall Street definitely wanted that on our side,” Diffenderffer said.

The airline is expected to offer cheap tickets and direct flights. But when asked several times about flight destinations, Diffenderffer declined specifics.

“We are definitely going to fly from here to there. And some of the theres are not places that you can from to from here right now directly,” Diffenderffer said.

While Skybus plans to offer very cheap fares, it’s going to have to compete against another low-fare airline, JetBlue, which is coming to Columbus next month. Diffenderffer said he’s not worried about the competition.

“We have a lot of investors coming out of New York putting what adds up to most of that $100 million that we’ve already raised. And anybody that knows those New York investors knows that they’re not planning on losing their money,” Diffenderffer said.

The Columbus Regional Airport Authority has pledged $27 million in financial assistance. And the Ohio Department of Development plans to give a $16 million incentive package.

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