Has Elite Airways flown its last flight from Vero?

PHOTO BY BRENDA AHEARN

Is Elite Airways being sold?

Let’s hope so.

Something needs to change – and fast – after Elite’s summer no-show in Vero Beach, when it canceled 27 of its 35 scheduled flights into and out of our airport in June, then scrapped all commercial passenger service here in July, August and September.

Elite Airways president John Pearsall, who has long touted Vero as his boutique airline’s most successful market, told me Monday we can expect to receive a press release in the next week or so, adding only that the announcement will be “all positive stuff” designed to give the carrier “a lot more longevity.”

What does that mean? A takeover? A major new investor?

Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher said the airline’s website shows no scheduled flights until Oct. 1, which prompted him to send a text message to Pearsall to verify what he saw.

“He responded with a text that said Oct. 1 was an accurate estimate,” Scher said.

Estimate?

That means it’s possible – if not likely, given the airline’s recent history – service won’t return until later in October. Or November. Or …

There’s no way to know.

Back in July, when I called Pearsall to ask about the June cancellations, he told me Elite was experiencing an aircraft shortage because:

  • The airline’s 50-seat passenger jets needed to undergo what he described as “major maintenance.”
  • A federal Transportation Security Administration program that temporarily allowed the airline’s 70- and 90-seat jets to land at Vero Beach Regional Airport expired at the end of May.

Pearsall said at the time Elite was in the process of removing 10 seats from its 70-seat jets to comply with the TSA’s 60-seat limit for the Vero Beach airport, “but we’ve run into a few delays and that’s impacted our aircraft availability.”

He said service was expected to resume the following week.

Since then, more than two months have passed, and Pearsall refuses to offer any explanation – to me, to Scher, to Elite travelers.

Is that how you treat your best customers?

Apparently, though, we’re not alone. Scher said he has been monitoring Elite’s aircraft on the FlightAware website, and he hasn’t seen any activity involving the jets that service Vero Beach.

“I really haven’t seen any activity anywhere,” Scher said, “at least for the past couple of months.”

One possible reason?

Scher said the city was notified by Elite’s insurance carrier last month that the airline’s coverage had been canceled on July 28, requiring him to warn Pearsall the airline could not fly while uninsured.

Scher also notified Pearsall last month that Elite was prohibited from using the Vero Beach airport’s passenger terminal until the airline paid the city more than $6,300 in fees that were due in July.

“They haven’t responded,” he said.

This is at least the second time Elite has been late with its payments. In April 2020, the City Council terminated the airline’s airport usage agreement for failing to pay nearly $35,000 in fees it owed the city.

The airline eventually paid the bill.

The more recent problem – Elite’s cancellation of flights for three months – surely has damaged he community’s confidence in an airline that was celebrated upon its arrival in December 2015, when the carrier began offering non-stop jet service between Vero Beach and Newark, New Jersey.

Too often, Elite customers say, the airline doesn’t notify travelers that flights have been canceled until 24 hours before their scheduled departure times, making it too late to re-book with different carriers.

Earlier this summer, Orchid resident Phil Coviello shared his Elite story about canceled flights and lengthy delays, saying, “I had already stopped using them for business flights, because you can’t rely on them, and I won’t use them again.”

Scher said Elite began the summer by cancelling flights one day at a time. In August, however, the airline scrubbed the entire month, with the intention of resuming service on Sept. 22.
On Monday, the rest of September’s flights were canceled.

“The conversation changed from: ‘When are you going to fly?’ to ‘Are you going to fly?’” Scher said, adding, “I’m really surprised there hasn’t been more public outcry.”

That should alarm Pearsall – and any potential new Elite owner or partner – because it tells us a growing number of customers in our community no longer care enough to complain.

They’ve simply given up and, despite the home-airport convenience Elite once offered, are now spending their air-travel dollars with an airline they can depend on.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that the traveling public has to deal with this, but whether Elite flies or not is 100 percent out of our hands,” Scher said. “We know people are frustrated, because we’re getting calls on a daily basis, but there’s really nothing we can do to help.

“This is a strange situation for us to be in, too,” Scher said. “Fair or not, what’s happening also reflects on the image of the airport and city.”

Let’s be clear: That’s not fair.

The people of this community, including the city government, have done everything necessary to make Elite feel welcome and support the airline’s operations here.

So what happened?

Why did Elite stop flying here – without warning, or explanation, or guarantee it will return?

Was Elite grounded? Did the airline run out of money? Is there something else going on that we should know?

Why won’t Pearsall tell us?

“I’ve stopped asking,” Scher said, “but I wish the guy would just be upfront with us.”

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