June 13, 2011 | Issue #99

FMCSA Shuts Down Sky Express After Fatal Accident

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On June 3, Charlotte-based Sky Express was issued a cease and desist order by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) after it was discovered that the company was violating an earlier out of service order by attempting to operate and sell tickets under different company names, including 108 Tours and 108 Bus.

The company was put out of service on May 31 when a motorcoach that they operated overturned on I-95 in Virginia. Four people were killed in the accident and dozens of others were injured.

Before this accident, Blue Sky Express had amassed one of the worst safety records in the motorcoach industry. During its brief, seven year, history, the company had been cited for many violations, including over 100 in between the years 2009 and 2010, and had been involved in four crashes in the last two years.

After an April inspection, the company was given an unsatisfactory rating and banned from performing interstate service. But Sky Express appealed this decision and was eventually granted a ten day extension. The crash in Virginia happened during this ten day period.

FMCSA has come under fire from the media, lawmakers and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for granting this extension to Sky Express.

In a letter to Secretary LaHood, a group of six senators said that FMCSA "failed to enforce its statutory authority to place the carrier [Sky Express] out of service."

ABA, and the operators it represents, were equally frustrated by FMCSA's performance.

"This is a failure of government to protect people," said ABA President Peter Pantuso. "While we appreciate the tough job that FMCSA is asked to perform every day, it was irresponsible to allow Sky Express to continue to operate with the number of violations they had."

FMCSA has already begun to change its practices after the crash and resulting criticism. Secretary LaHood directed the agency to cease granting ten day extensions, like the one Sky Express received. And the agency has also shut down several websites that sold tickets for Sky Express and similar operators.