NAPLES — Naples Connection hasn't connected.
The company that planned to launch air service between the Naples Municipal Airport and four Florida cities this year lost its operating certificate, putting it out of business.
But the company, Twin Air Calypso Limited Inc., is fighting to get its certificate back.
"We are working on it," said Joel Johnson, who was overseeing the Naples Connection start-up here.
Twin Air had planned to begin scheduled air service at the Naples Municipal Airport in October, offering four weekly flights to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Key West and Orlando using nine-passenger aircraft.
On Aug. 7, the Federal Aviation Administration revoked Twin Air's operating certificate, determining that "an emergency exists related to safety in air commerce." On Nov. 6, the U.S. Department of Transportation notified the Fort Lauderdale-based company that its on-demand air taxi registration was canceled and that it no longer could "directly engage in air transportation."
The carrier was grounded after the FAA found it illegally operated as a scheduled airline, rather than as an on-demand service, for flights between Fort Lauderdale International Airport and the Bahamas.
"We are just not settled with the FAA. We have requested a re-evaluation of the certificate and are working on getting it reissued," Johnson said.
With its certificate, Twin Air couldn't operate more than four weekly scheduled flights between two or more points, but an investigation found it had daily service from Fort Lauderdale to Treasure Cay, Marsh Harbour and Walker Cay on Abaco Island and flew six days a week to South Eleuthera Island, Governor's Harbour and North Eleuthera Island. The company operated the service on three small planes, each with fewer than 10 seats.
Twin Air has appealed the FAA's emergency order of revocation. The appeal is pending before the National Transportation Safety Board and a decision could come in the next few weeks, Johnson said.
"The board is considering it. I don't know the status of it, though," said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, D.C.
In February, the U.S. Department of Transportation reached a settlement with Twin Air, requiring it to pay a civil penalty of $70,000 and to "cease and desist from further violations." But the company didn't comply with the agreement, continuing to act as a commuter air carrier without first being found fit to do so, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's letter canceling the company's air taxi registration.
In its defense, Twin Air has said it didn't intend to violate any rules and that it fully cooperated with an investigation by the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings.
Twin Air is the successor company to Twin Town Leasing Co., which in 2005 was fined $20,000 and ordered to stop similar violations.
The idea for Twin Air service in Naples actually came from George Brown, the chairman and CEO of American Aviation Group Inc., who said he planned to buy Twin Air and expand it before the company lost its operating certificate. If Twin Air wins its appeal, he said, he still will be interested in buying it and suspects the carrier will still want to sell, especially with all the money it has lost since being forced out of business.
It's not all that unusual for an air carrier to get its operating certificate back, but that decision depends partly on the severity of the violations and the cooperation between the company and its regulators, Brown said.
"It's not an impossible thing. It's done all the time. People do get their license back. They do get their certification back," he said.
Ted Soliday, executive director of the Naples Municipal Airport, said anything that's done with a federal agency is a long, complicated process.
He had hoped to see the service launch at the start of the busy season so there would be "success from the start."
He said he hopes everything with the FAA will be resolved soon so Naples Connection will fly. The airport doesn't have a commuter airline and it remains a top priority for him and his board, Soliday said.
JetBlue showed some interest in flying out of the Naples airport, but backed away from those talks in October, following a letter-writing campaign by Naples residents who didn't like the idea. A weight waiver would have been required from the FAA for the carrier to fly its larger EMB 190 aircraft in and out of the city's airport.
"We are obviously very eager to get a small aircraft providing commercial service at the airport," Soliday said.