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The Elite Airways saga: Chapter 739

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of February 16, 2023)

The ‘will-they-be-back-or-won’t-they’ Elite Airways saga continues.

The major announcement which Elite president John Pearsall in December promised was coming shortly after the calendar turned to 2023?

Still no announcement.

The only semblance of news  posted on the airline’s website ?

Last Friday, the log-in line at the top of the home page read: “Elite Airways will be announcing new service soon!”

The website’s previous post was a message stating that the carrier’s reservation system was offline and undergoing an “upgrade and maintenance.”

Asked by Vero Beach 32963 if he would comment on the new posting, Pearsall responded Monday with a text message saying, “No, thank you. We will let you know soon.”

Hard to tell what “soon” means.

A week earlier, when asked about the status of the announcement he promised months ago, Pearsall replied with a text message: “Elite is not ready to release yet.”

That message followed a Jan. 27 text in which he wrote that the announcement was “just a few days away.” He later amended that to say the release would need to wait until the “following week.”

When contacted via text on Feb. 3, Pearsall replied, “Call you later.”

The call never came. The next day, he agreed to talk “tomorrow afternoon.” Again, no call.

He didn’t bother to respond to an interview request on Feb. 5, prompting a next-morning call to his cellphone, which he didn’t answer. There was no option to leave a voice message.

Pearsall has operated this way for months, dodging direct questions about the fate of his boutique airline, which hasn’t flown into or out of Vero Beach since June 30.

He has not provided answers or explanations to anyone here – not Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher, not the local news media, not Elite customers – nor offered any definitive plan for the future.

This lack of communication and transparency has left Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno wondering if Elite will ever return, especially after this month’s arrival of Breeze Airways, which enjoyed a wildly successful launch to its commercial passenger service to Hartford, Conn., and Westchester County, N.Y.

“If Elite shows up, we’ll talk about it,” Cotugno said, referring to the City Council. “But me, personally? I’m not counting on it. Until we hear something definite, Elite isn’t even going to enter my thought processes.”

The mayor said he’d rather focus on the city’s budding relationship with Breeze, adding the airline appears to be “well-financed, professionally run and very interested in succeeding in Vero Beach.”

Drawing a comparison with Pearsall’s recent interactions with the city, Cotugno said he sent well-wishing emails to two Breeze executives on the night of Feb. 5, and he immediately received responses expressing gratitude for the warm reception from the community.

“We’re supporting the Breeze operations the best we can,” Cotugno said, “and they said they could expand their flights if the initial service is successful.”

Asked if he had a message for Elite, Cotugno replied: “Take care and safe travels.”

His remark wasn’t surprising, given Elite’s sudden and unexplained disappearance. Elite began offering non-stop passenger-jet service between Vero Beach and Newark, N.J. in December 2015, then added flights to Portland, Maine, Westchester County, N.Y., and Asheville, N.C.

Last spring, though, the carrier began canceling flights before completely shutting down in June.

In a text exchange with this newspaper in December, Pearsall wrote that he expects the airline to resume service during the first quarter of 2023, adding that he would make an announcement “right after New Year’s.”

Scher is still waiting for it.

He said Monday he hadn’t spoken to Pearsall in more than three weeks.

Unless Elite solves its problems and talks steps to actually resume service to Vero Beach, this is the final story like this you will read in 32963.