Excess Baggage

The checkered past of Jet Aspen's CEO prompts regulators to put the new airline in a holding pattern.

The second company to speak up was the Aspen-based Peak International. Among other things, Peak provides marketing, sales and customer service to Tri-Star Airlines, which already flies to Aspen from Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Peak President and CEO Ron Stone acknowledges that Peak and Jet Aspen might someday find themselves chasing the same customers--Jet Aspen hopes to fly out of Houston, Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco. But he insists his company's interest in complaining to the DOT was more general. "We are staking our future and livelihood on the Aspen market, and so anything we see that that might have an effect on, we are an interested party," he explains.

Specifically, Peak's interest revolved around Pareti. In its filing with the government, Peak charged that, although Jet Aspen's application to the transportation department listed Pareti only as a consultant, he was in fact the person "running the show" and "is Jet Aspen." As evidence, the company pointed to the newspaper articles indicating that Pareti was in charge.

Peak further pointed out that Pareti was earning twice the company president's salary and controlled 66.5 percent of Jet Aspen's stock--unusual for a mere consultant.

Jet Aspen answered both companies' complaints by offering to amend its application to note the $215,000 ORIX judgment against Pareti and "to discontinue Mr. Pareti's consulting arrangement with the company" until the Leisure bankruptcy was sorted out.

Still, the complaints are cause for concern, says DOT spokesman Bill Mosley, who notes that any complaints on an airline's application are unusual. So on January 19, the DOT gave Jet Aspen tentative approval to operate--but only if the company were able to submit proof of Pareti's non-involvement with the company. And that, says Mosley, is the last time the agency has heard from Jet Aspen.

Pareti's relationship to the airline remains hazy. In its DOT filings, Jet Aspen lists Pareti as "a principal in the aviation consulting firm of Hap Pareti & Associates in McLean, Virginia." A call to those offices is answered by a recorded message that begins, "You have reached the offices of Jet Aspen..." Messages left there haven't been returned.

Calls to the company's Aspen office were referred to Jet Aspen president Alan Hughes, who also has a consulting firm in McLean. He, too, has not returned numerous calls.

In the meantime, the young airline seems to be moving only in fits and starts. One plane, which it has leased from USAir, is reportedly being painted. A second has yet to be delivered.

And the unpaid pilots? They were told recently that because of the delay between their ground training last winter and Jet Aspen's first flights, they might have to repeat flight school--if the airline ever makes it off the ground.

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