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Summer is only a few months away, and according to media speculation and the U.S. Department of Transportation, a new airline is set to launch -- the first U.S.-based discount airline to fly exclusively to international destinations.

At a time when so many airlines are fighting bankruptcy, most airlines are trading at a loss and there are few glimmers of hope in an ailing U.S. aviation industry (Southwest and JetBlue aside), it may appear somewhat risky for a new airline to enter the market.

At this stage, the airline, SkyLink Airways (www.skylinkairways.com) is still a "paper airline" while it raises funds and finalizes legal requirements to begin operations, however it has already gained preliminary approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation. If the Federal Aviation Administration approves its maintenance and safety plans, the carrier expects to launch this summer. According to its website and publicly released documents, SkyLink Airways will be based out of Baltimore-Washington Dulles International Airport and hopes to partner with U.S. and European airlines for connecting flights to ultimately serve 15 countries on four continents. There is some speculation however amongst aviation industry insiders, that SkyLink may end up flying out of New York.

SkyLink Airways is promoting itself as the first low-fare, high value airline dedicated to long-haul international service. It intends to combine up-market amenities with simple, low fares. As a discount alternative, SkyLink's fares plan to undercut major airlines on many lucrative international routes. The airline plans to offer two-way, business-class tickets to Europe on a fleet of Boeing 767s for as little as $700, and economy tickets for $300. That's about one third of the rate on the traditional legacy carriers.

Its main destination and European base will be Stansted, UK, one of five airports servicing the London area. Stansted currently operates as a regional airport since international flights ceased operations there after September 11th, 2001, so the imminent return of an international carrier is eagerly anticipated by Stansted management. In addition to Stansted, SkyLink has identified its other potential destinations as Aruba, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Taiwan.

There is also some conjecture as to a possible name change as the SkyLink name is already associated with a Canadian travel company. Although no official launch date has been confirmed, SkyLink is currently recruiting for both its U.S. home base of Washington, D.C. and for Stansted-based cabin crew and airport staff. Often when a discount airline enters a market, other airlines will lower fares to compete, however it remains to be seen whether the introduction of SkyLink Airways will lead to a price reduction by other competing airlines on similar international routes. Either way, the introduction on a new international carrier serving the transatlantic route can only mean greater choice for travelers and hopefully greater savings.

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