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Markair Grounded Faa Clips Airline’s Wings Because Of Poor Maintenance

As its ticket counters and planes sat idle Wednesday, upstart MarkAir Inc. was fighting to regain its operating certificate after being grounded because of maintenance concerns.

MarkAir officials met with Federal Aviation Administration authorities in an effort to resolve the issues that led to the airline’s shutdown Tuesday.

Tom Medland, MarkAir spokesman, was confident the airline would get off the ground again. MarkAir officials said the suspension could cost millions for the carrier, which is already trying to reorganize in bankruptcy court.

“We are meeting with them (the FAA) right now. We feel it is a very cooperative effort on both parts,” he said.

The grounding of the Denver-based carrier stranded thousands of passengers and left 500 employees temporarily jobless.

MarkAir serves Denver; Anchorage; Alaska; Seattle; Reno, Nev.; Oakland, Calif.; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Phoenix; Los Angeles; Dallas-Fort Worth; Atlanta; New York; San Diego; and Chicago. It has 42 daily flights systemwide.

The airline was one of the first to offer discount fares in the Northwest, using low prices to draw customers before Morris and Southwest airlines entered the market. Originally based in Anchorage, MarkAir started by offering flights between Alaska and the lower 48 states.

However, as MarkAir expanded and other airlines countered its fares, the company struggled.

The FAA alleged MarkAir had insufficient staff to ensure its six Boeing 737s are safe.

MarkAir spokeswoman Maggie Harris contended the suspension stemmed from paperwork missing as a result of the company’s recent move from Alaska to Colorado, but the FAA insisted there were specific problems.

For example, the federal agency said MarkAir failed to demonstrate it had an adequate maintenance operation. It said that several of the airline’s key maintenance positions were vacant and that it hired unqualified workers.

The FAA had grounded three of MarkAir’s jets on Sunday after a snap inspection, forcing the cancellation of a dozen flights. The planes had resumed flying Monday, MarkAir Chairman Neil Bergt said.

On Wednesday, MarkAir’s ticket counter was empty, except for a handwritten notice that gave the address of its corporate headquarters. Its gates were quiet and dark.

Its six planes, which fly 13 daily flights out of Denver, sat idle on the tarmac as frustrated passengers sought the best fares on competing airlines.

Travel agents advised clients to cancel payment on tickets purchased with credit cards or to contact America West, which reportedly was giving vouchers to MarkAir ticketholders on a city-by-city basis.

The low-fare, no-frills airline, which has been in and out of financial trouble, came to Denver International Airport billed as a presence to keep fares low.

Denver officials were concerned United Airline’s market dominance would push up fares and, at one time, were in negotiations to financially back MarkAir. Those negotiations eventually collapsed.