Financial woes, air controller strike ground New England regional airline
Boston — In the aftermath of the air traffic controllers strike last summer, New England has lost its largest regional commercial passenger service. Even as the Federal Labor Relations Authority in Washington was preparing to decertify the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) in Washington late last week, Air New England was announcing it would cease operations Nov. 1.
But, according to transportation specialists, its demise does not necessarily rule out the notion that the northeastern United States can sustain a profitable air carrier of its own, like those in other sections of the country.
Citing huge financial deficits that ''made it impossible to stay in business, '' the airline broke the news to nearly 400 employees Oct. 21. It is the only regional airline serving the entire area, linking New York and Boston with smaller cities throughout New England for the last 11 years, specializing in service to Cape Cod.
Air New England was dealt another blow Oct. 23 when Cleveland-based Wright Airlines, which had been negotiating for the purchase of some of its assets, said it was no longer interested in the deal.
Prospects for new jobs with other airlines are not considered bright for the Air New England employees, as massive layoffs continue throughout the industry.
Air New England blamed its problems on:
* The air traffic controllers walkout in August, which, it said, led to such intense competition between carriers that it could not afford to match ticket prices with reduced flights.
* Deregulation of the airline industry, which, said a company announcement, created ''open warfare between carriers by introducing uneconomic competition over weak traffic routes and predatory market pricing.''
* Inadequate federal subsidies. Last year the airline received nearly $7.5 million in such subsidies. Just prior to the PATCO strike it announced it was discontinuing some of its subsidized routes, including those serving the popular resort islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Only last spring, airline officials said they had stabilized the system and that it had run satisfactorily in 1980. An official last year predicted the airline would be able to continue through 1982 with most of its routes.
But the airline's struggles to prove that New England could have a healthy regional carrier similar to, say, Air West have been the subject of wide concern from the start.
It has operated a fleet of mostly aging and fuel-hungry 44-passenger planes while its competitors were either using much smaller and more efficient aircraft or were major carriers - like Delta - that could afford to serve the most profitable routes with comfortable jets.