A proposed nonstop Elite Airways route between Long Island MacArthur Airport and Virginia has been suspended in the wake of reports that Virginia officials are auditing the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport for possible misuse of public funds by airport commissioners.
The new route from the Ronkonkoma airport to Newport News was scheduled to begin March 13. Elite Airways, based in Portland, Maine, was also scheduled to begin service between Newport News and Newark Liberty Airport on that date.
Elite Airways President John Pearsall said in a statement Monday that the suspension is a result of the “challenging perceptions surrounding the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.”
“It was a difficult decision to postpone the start of service . . . as the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport has been a terrific partner to work with,” Pearsall said in the statement posted on Elite Airways’ website. “We strongly believe in the market and want to give this service the best possible climate to start in. Postponing the start date will allow both the airline and the airport to be more successful in launching new air service to meet the needs of the community.”
He added that the company will continue to work with officials of the Islip Town-owned airport in an effort to bring the Newport News service to MacArthur in the future.
Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the officials have begun auditing the airport for its use of $3.55 million in state funding that was intended for infrastructure and construction, but airport commissioners instead used for guaranteeing a loan with low-cost carrier People Express.
“We are having an investigation into the circumstances around . . . using taxpayers’ money, state money to guarantee a loan and subsequently pay off a loan for People Express, which is a private carrier,” Layne said, and added, “That’s what the question is — how did that get to be used to pay off the debts of a private commercial carrier?”
Layne said Elite Airways is not part of the state’s investigation. “It obviously has nothing to do with Elite Airways in that regard, and hopefully we’ll get through this and they’ll still be able to move forward in Newport News,” he said. The state’s investigation began this week, he said.
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in a statement Wednesday she hoped the partnership with Newport News will resume in the future.
“We support Elite Airways while they work through the challenges they are currently facing with the airport in Virginia, and which have led them to postpone service to Long Island MacArthur, as well as Newark Airport from Newport News/Williamsburg.”
Newport News airport’s marketing and public affairs office did not respond to a request for comment from its director. In a Facebook post, the airport’s social media team wrote that the suspension is a result of “continuing negative and inaccurate headlines, which are preventing the introduction of this new brand properly to our community.”
A spokeswoman with Elite Airways said there was no further information about the airline’s future routes into and out of MacArthur. The airline now flies between Ronkonkoma and Melbourne-Orlando, Florida, and offers seasonal service to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Portland, Maine.
Any tickets issued by Elite Airways for the Virginia routes will be fully refunded immediately, airline officials said in their statement. Passengers can also call 877-393-2510 for more information.