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Skybus Airlines Inc. was a privately-held airline based in Columbusmarker, Ohiomarker, United Statesmarker. It operated as an ultra-low-cost carrier modeled after the European airline Ryanair, and aimed to be the least expensive airline in the United States. The business model was heavily reliant on flying routes where other airlines did not have direct flights, as Ryanair did in Europe, thus keeping competition to a minimum, and on flying into secondary airports, rather than heavily-trafficked ones. The airline also sold advertising space on the interior and exterior of its aircraft, as well as selling merchandise on board. Skybus applied for operating approval on January 1, 2005,

received approval to operate on March 15, 2006,and FAA certification on May 10, 2007.It had been granted a waiver to begin ticket sales on April 24, 2007;the first flights out of Columbus began on May 22, 2007. Less than a year later, Skybus announced on April 4, 2008, that it would cease operations as of April 5, citing the lagging economy and rising fuel costs as causes.


Taking advantage of America West Airlines pulling out as a hub of Columbus, the creators started gathering capital to start the airline in that city.

On April 24, 2007, Skybus Airlines announced their initial set of eight destinations, all of which originated from their hub at Port Columbus International Airportmarker in Columbus. At first, Skybus operated a strict hub-and-spoke service, not booking flights between destination cities that were not Columbus, but the company later announced it would begin flying direct flights from its Portsmouth, NH destination to two locations in Florida. In addition, prices of tickets and details on extra fees were announced the same day.

On May 22, 2007, Skybus Airlines began service to and from Port Columbus International Airportmarker and its initial eight destinations. The airline also announced its intention to rapidly expand. As part of its business model, Skybus favored smaller, cheaper airports near major markets. To serve Boston, for example, Skybus chose Portsmouth International Airportmarker. This model received criticism as many of these smaller airports did not have services travelers were expecting or other scheduled service to leverage in the event of flight cancellations. The airline also did not use jetways, using ground-level-boarding ramps and airstairs instead.Skybus marketed itself as an ultra-low-cost carrier, selling ten seats on each flight for $10. The low fares came with a reduction of frills. There were charges for virtually everything else (see Skybus business model).

On July 24, 2007, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted Skybus the right to fly international flights to Cancúnmarker, Mexicomarker and Nassau, Bahamasmarker.

Skybus announced on September 25, 2007, that it would begin daily service from Portsmouth to St. Augustinemarker, as well as Fort Myersmarker, served by the Charlotte County Airportmarker in Punta Gordamarker in December 2007.

As of October 25, 2007, all press releases and references to the international service were removed from the Skybus website.

The airline made news during the Christmas 2007 holiday travel season, when it encountered problems with two of its seven planes, resulting in the cancellation of about 25% of its scheduled service over a two-day period.

On March 24, 2008 Skybus announced that chief executive Bill Diffenderffer had resigned to return to his previous occupation as an author.

As of November, 2008, Skybus' former website,, is no longer active.


On its last day of operation, Skybus provided service to 17 destinations throughout the United Statesmarker. Skybus began its inaugural flight on May 22, 2007, when the airline began flights from the Port Columbus base. The first service that did not have a Columbus end point began December 17, 2007, when Skybus began flights between Portsmouthmarker and St. Augustinemarker as well as Punta Gorda, Floridamarker.

On October 16, 2007, Skybus announced it was eliminating service to San Diegomarker and Bellinghammarker, and cutting one flight a day to Burbankmarker. The cuts were made for rising fuel costs as it was more cost effective to use the current fleet on shorter and more profitable runs.At the same time, Skybus said it would add a second daily flight to Greensboro, North Carolinamarker, which was now its second focus city, and a third seasonal daily flight to Punta Gorda, Floridamarker.

On October 22, 2007, Skybus announced the opening of a new focus city at Piedmont Triad International Airportmarker in Greensboro, North Carolinamarker.

On February 6, 2008, Skybus announced that it would end service to the West Coast effective in June, except for a single daily nonstop to Burbank.

On March 8, 2008, Skybus landed its first flight at New Castle Airportmarker, south of Wilmington, Delaware, a less congested alternative to Philadelphia International Airport. Many travelers in the Philadelphia area preferred the smaller airport without the congestion issues of Philadelphia International Airportmarker.Skybus announced on March 19, 2008, that "previously announced service between Columbus and Niagara Falls, NY, [before it even started], as well as a previously announced second daily flight between Columbus and Milwaukee, will not begin." Also announced was all service to/from Chattanooga, TN would end on April 14, 2008, along with a cut from two to one daily flight from Greensboro, NC and Wilmington, DE, and elimation of the Greensboro, NC and Gulfport-Biloxi, MS flight.

On April 4, 2008, Skybus announced the cessation of all flights effective with the last scheduled departure of the day. Service was set to begin on June 1, 2008, between New York (Stewart International Airportmarker / Newburgh, NYmarker) and Boston (Portsmouth, NHmarker), Hartford (Chicopee, MAmarker) and Punta Gorda, FL, Hartford and St. Augustine, FLmarker, and Richmond, VAmarker and St. Augustine.

Skybus business model

Attempting to emulate Ryanair's business model and Southwest's people-friendly attitude (often considered at odds in comparisons of the two airlines), Skybus had committed itself to be the least expensive airline in the industry with a projected CASM 28% lower than Southwest. To achieve this, Skybus planned to utilize multiple measures designed to keep revenue high and costs low.

Advertised fares to all of the former target cities began at US$10 one-way; the price increased as more tickets were sold for that flight. It was advertised that there were ten seats for $10. With some of Skybus's less popular routes, they had featured tickets for $20.08 (plus taxes and fees) to bring in the new year. Ticket prices for the remaining fares were expected to be around half the price of other airlines. These fares did not include taxes and other airport fees, however, which add about $10 to a one-way ticket. All fees included, the cheapest round-trip ticket for one adult would have cost approximately $40.

Extra fees
Skybus charged extra fees for almost everything other than the ticket itself. This is common among European low-cost carriers, but almost unheard of among major US LCCs like Southwest and AirTran. Carry-on baggage (one bag plus one personal item) was free, but checked bags incurred an additional charge. The first two bags under fifty pounds were $10 each online or $12 each at the counter, with each additional bag after two incurring a charge of $50 per bag. Overweight baggage, those weighing over fifty but under seventy-five pounds, was charged an extra $25, and all bags over seventy-five pounds were not accepted.Skybus did not through-check luggage. If a customer flew through the Skybus hub in Columbus, he or she had to collect any luggage he or she checked in, and then re-check it in Columbus for the second flight.Seating was first-come, first-served. Passengers paid an extra $10 per person per direction for priority seating, which allowed a passenger to board right after passengers with disabilities.On-board, everything from food and drinks to pillows had an additional charge; once purchased, items did not need to be returned. In order to maximize revenue from these fees, Skybus attempted to strictly enforce its no food and drink policy. The airline required passengers dispose of food and drink before boarding the plane. The exceptions were baby formula or baby food, special food for those with a medical condition such as diabetes or severe food allergies, or those with dietary restrictions (Kosher, Halal, etc).

Cost reduction
In an effort to keep maintenance and operating costs to a minimum, most equipment purchased was uniform. This covered the full range of equipment, from engines, to electrical components, to personnel gear. Because of this, Skybus planned on paying significantly less on employee training and for equipment service.

Another major method of cost reduction was to utilize secondary airports, which are generally less congested and charge less to lease space though they may be farther from the advertised destination. To save even more money at the airport, passengers boarded directly from the apron instead of using the jetway, saving both loading/unloading time as well as operating costs. Finally, ticket sales were entirely online. This not only saved on employee costs, but completely eliminated the need for a reservations call center.

Employee wages
Keeping wages in line with their projected low fares, flight attendants were paid $9 per flight hour, and were not paid a per diem. While this was considerably lower than competing airlines' wages, flight attendants also received 10% of all sales made during the flight, splitting all commissions evenly among all flight attendants on-board.

Starting pilot wages were also well below average in terms of hourly rate, starting at $65,000 annually for Captains, and $30,000 for First Officers as a minimum guarantee. The average captain's earnings were about $90,000 vs $120,000 per year for a theoretical 1st year Captain at airlines like United Airlines (there is no 1st year pay at United) but in the case of Skybus this included a significant stock options and profit share package unique in the airline industry. Additionally unusual for Skybus flight crew was that there were very few if any overnight trips thus giving the crew far fewer hours away from home (known as TAFB or time away from base) and higher crew utilization rates for more efficient work schedules. Typical Skybus pilot work days were 8–10 hours long (FAA max is 16hrs), which was lower than the industry average 12–14 hours. Typical pilot work months were 14–15 days with no overnights. The average pilot in the US has a work month of 16–17 days, and the average airline pilot wage is approximately $135,000 averaged between first officer and captain pay.

Skybus was one of the few 100% non-union airlines in the United States at the time of its shutdown. It was facing a union organizing campaign from its pilots, who had collected enough signatures to hold a union referendum. The pilots were seeking to join Local 747 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, based in Houston, Texasmarker. Because of the number of signatures collected it was presumed that the campaign would be successful. The election would have most likely occurred sometime in April 2008. Successful unionization could have severely undermined Skybus's below-market compensation philosophy and laid the framework for union activity among other Skybus employee groups.

Increasing revenue
While cutting costs was a high priority for Skybus, revenue was their primary focus. Skybus aircraft were outfitted as flying gift shops, selling everything from soda and food to perfumes, watches, clothing, and toiletries.

Advertisements could also be seen throughout the cabin and exterior. This could include overhead bins, carpet, tray tables, and full-body exterior advertisements (see below). The price for interior advertisements was not released, though a company who purchased a full-body advertisement could also buy all interior advertisements for a small increase in price. A complete list of where advertisements were to be placed was not released.

Shutdown and bankruptcy

Soon after the departures of several top managers, on April 4, 2008, Skybus announced they were shutting down all flight operations. The airline also said it would seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.A statement on its website regarding the shutdown said that "Skybus struggled to overcome the combination of rising jet fuel costs and a slowing economic environment. These two issues proved to be insurmountable for a new carrier." Skybus was the fourth United Statesmarker based airline to shut down or announce future plans to shut down the week of March 31, 2008, following Aloha Airlines, ATA Airlines and charter airline Champion Air.At the time of the shutdown Skybus employed about 450 people, mostly in the Columbus, Ohiomarker area. Almost all were immediately laid off. Passengers were left stranded on round trips.


On October 26, 2006, Skybus announced a deal with the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus to buy 65 of its Airbus A319 aircraft. The order carried an estimated retail price of $3.7 billion, though the actual price Skybus would have paid had not been announced. Additionally the aircraft were going to come with a 12 year maintenance agreement that was new for Airbus and Skybus was the launch customer for this service plan which helped them manage maintenance costs. Additionally the aircraft would have been equipped with the latest in EFB (electronic flight bags) and HUD (heads up display) technology, as well as TCAS II terrain and traffic avoidance technology which is integrated in with a EGPWS technology box that protects from terrain collision. Skybus planned to lease aircraft of the same type until the new aircraft were to begin delivery in late 2008.

On February 14, 2007, Skybus announced they had chosen the CFM56-5B engine built by CFM International to power the 65 A319 aircraft on order from Airbus. The actual price Skybus would have paid for the engines was not disclosed, but the list price for the order is estimated at over $750 million.As of April 2008, the Skybus Airlines fleet consisted of 13 Airbus A319 aircraft (out of a total order of 63), 12 received in December 2007 and one in March 2008, two of which were leased from Virgin America. The average age of the fleet was 4.3 years.

Livery and advertising

Original images of a livery design described by some as "psychedelic" emerged on the internet, but since then the all orange design displaying the butterfly logo on the tail made its appearance on the Columbus tarmac. This design was not the standard livery for all Skybus aircraft, however, as its airplanes were available as "branded airplanes" to any company that paid $500,000 per year for this. A branded airplane featured a full-body advertisement along the fuselage, with the tail and engines of the plane remaining in the Skybus paint scheme. The first sponsored aircraft, aircraft N522VA leased from Virgin America, promoted the theme "Nationwide is on Your Side" Nationwide Mutual Insurance Companymarker. It was created by an airplane media company, SkyBrand, based in Seattle. Skybus had also had some self-advertising on the orange tails of its white planes that read, "Skybus. $10 Fares...Only Birds Fly Cheaper."

The first leased aircraft for Skybus that came from Virgin America, had 144 seats on board, and flew with three flight attendants.


  • On January 17, 2008, a man threatened passengers on a flight from Columbus to Fort Lauderdale. The plane landed safely back at Port Columbus Airport and the unruly man was arrested by the FBI.
  • On April 1, 2008, a 26 year old man from Columbus, Ohiomarker was found to have a stolen Skybus emergency lifevest in his carry-on luggage. During X-Ray examination of the bag, TSA screeners at Stewart International Airportmarker (New York/Newburgh) thought the metal material, batteries, and wires in the folded vest looked like a bomb. The passenger terminal was evacuated and the State Police Bomb Disposal Unit removed the item for examination. The passenger was charged with criminal nuisance and criminal possession of stolen property.


Skybus hubs (CMH and GSO) did not provide connection opportunities for passengers. Skybus highly discouraged connections; as such, passengers wishing to interchange at hubs would have to move bags between flights (on their own) as bags could not be checked on a multi-segment itinerary.

Startup incentives

In an effort to attract the airline to the city, as well as support its growth early on, the city of Columbus, along with the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, had offered incentives totaling over $57 million. These incentives included a twelve-year tax credit, promised airport improvements, business loans, and marketing support. Most of the incentives were performance-based, which required Skybus to create 1000 jobs and complete other milestones to receive the incentives. Incentives such as airport improvements, however, were already completed. When Skybus began operations, they took advantage of $11 million of improvements to their gates in Concourse B at Port Columbus.


Skybus was financed by numerous high-profile companies nationwide and locally. As of April 2, 2007, Skybus had raised an estimated $160 million in startup capital which includes $72.7 million in their second round of fund raising. That was among the largest amounts of start-up funding in the history of airlines. By comparison, JetBlue Airways, which began operations in 1999, raised $130 million prior to starting ($157 million adjusted for inflation).


Skybus Airlines' startup finances were provided by a number of large investors. These included Fidelity Investments (12.6% ownership), Morgan Stanley (6.4%), Nationwide Mutual Capital (5%), and Tiger Management (4.1%). Smaller investors include: Huntington Capital Investment Co.marker, Wolfe Enterprises (owner of The Columbus Dispatch), and Battelle Services Co. Inc.

Financial performance

Skybus reported a loss of $16 million during its first three months of operation. A Skybus spokesman said that these results were "in line" with expectations for an airline startup. During that period, Skybus planes were 79% full, placing the airline sixteenth highest among 96 reporting airlines. Passenger yield for the quarter was 5.08 cents/mile, compared with Southwest's 12.50 cents/mile and the 13.00-cent/mile average among major national carriers.


  1. Home. Skybus Airlines. February 7, 2006. Retrieved on May 20, 2009.
  2. While the airline died, it set a trend for airlines charging extra for baggage.
  3. Skybus Fleet Detail
  4. Skybus Fleet Age
  5. Michael Randall, "Airline passenger charged in bomb scare in Stewart Airport", Times Herald-Record, April 2, 2008
  6. Skybus - Where We Fly

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