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Sunday, February 25, 2001

Charter service raises concerns

By DANIEL SFORZA
Staff Writer

Crowded airplanes. Bustling terminals. Long baggage claim waits.

For the typical airline passenger, that spells frustration.

Matthew Andersson saw an opportunity.

The Chicago entrepreneur launched Indigo last year, an airline catering to business travelers that operates out of Chicago Midway Airport. His first target market: New York, by way of Teterboro Airport.

"The New York-New Jersey metro area and Chicago are the two most exciting economic areas in the country," Andersson said. "Our customers asked for the route."

And Andersson delivers, twice daily. The service flies in and out of Teterboro at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. It can be booked on the Internet and flights cost $629, one way.

"It's especially appealing to executives . . . who need an affordable option outside of [commercial] airline travel," Andersson said. " I thought we should get more people to fly on more business jets, more of the time."

Technically a charter service, Indigo flies a fleet of four Dassault Falcon 20 jets, which seat eight passengers. Andersson hopes to expand his fleet to 100 planes and fly routes between Atlanta, Washington D.C., Dallas, Chicago, and Teterboro, as well as other smaller airports around New York City.

"The only way you are going to be able to do that is innovate on pricing," Andersson said. "The only way to do that is to offer single [person] travel services and get people to share the plane and then run several charters a day so service is affordable."

In essence, Indigo charters single seats, not the entire plane, Andersson said.

While unique in the marketplace, Andersson's idea may fly in the face of rules set for Teterboro Airport, which is run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"What you just described would not be allowed at Teterboro," said Port Authority Aviation Director Bill DeCota when asked about Indigo's operation. "We've been watching that very carefully. My people have been looking at whether that is a regularly scheduled commercial for hire or whether it is infrequent."

DeCota said Thursday that he would ask the Teterboro manager to take a closer look at Indigo and determine if it violates Port Authority regulations. If so, DeCota said the Port Authority would halt the airline's flights into Teterboro.

Andersson said his operation meets all guidelines. Indigo is licensed as a public charter operator by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"Indigo operates under charter regulations," he said. "We are the only business jet service in the country that is both FAA and Department of Transportation certified. That allows us to fly our business jets [between cities] that our customers choose with levels of frequency that Indigo and its customers choose."

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