June 13, 2011 | Issue #99

FMCSA Shuts Down Sky Express After Fatal Accident

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. 

6 Senators Ask DOT to Accelerate Enforcement Efforts

In a letter sent to Secretary Ray LaHood last week, a group of six senators called the Department of Transportation's (DOT) enforcement of bus regulations "uneven, inconsistent and ineffective," and asked the Secretary to accelerate DOT's efforts remove illegal and unfit operators from the nation's roads.

The letter, written by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Patty Murray, D-Washington; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY; Charles Schumer, D-NY; Mark Warner, D-Va; and Jim Webb, D-Va, was sent in response to a fatal crash in Virginia in which four people were killed and dozens of others were injured.

The company involved in the crash,  Sky Express, Inc., had been ordered to cease all operations by DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, but was given an extra ten days to appeal this decision.

In their letter, the six lawmakers criticized DOT and FMCSA's decision to grant the extension saying that FMCSA "failed to enforce its statutory authority to place the carrier out of service", and asked LaHood what steps will be taken to "shorten the time frame in which operators come into compliance with safety standards"

"Frankly, I would also like to know why Blue Sky Express was allowed to continue operations," said ABA President Peter Pantuso about the group's letter. "We applaud the senators for focusing much of the letter on the need for better enforcement of current bus safety regulations. We look forward to working with them to improve bus safety in the future."

Click here to read the letter

In Other Capitol Hill News:

On Monday, June 13, ABA President Peter Pantuso will testify before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure at 2:30 p.m. Pantuso will testify on improving bus safety. You can watch a webcast of the hearing here

NTSB Investigates Blue Sky Express Crash

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released an update on their investigation into the Sky Express, Inc. bus crash that killed 4 people in May.

In the update, the board released the following factual information that it has developed so far in the investigation.

At approximately 4:55 a.m. on Tuesday, May 31, the motorcoach was traveling northbound on Interstate 95 in the vicinity of milepost 103 in Caroline County, Virginia, when it departed the right side of the highway and rolled over. As a result of the accident, four passengers were killed and the bus sustained extensive damage.Preliminary review of the accident scene indicates that the motorcoach was traveling in the right-hand lane of three northbound lanes of Interstate 95, while traversing a left- hand curve when it crossed onto the shoulder at an approximate 5 degree angle across a section of rumble strips. The bus traveled entirely off the paved roadway onto the grass embankment and collided with a cable barrier. It traveled approximately 273 feet from its initial departure point and began turning counterclockwise back toward the pavement. After traversing about 381 feet from the initial departure point, the bus rolled 180 degrees about its longitudinal axis and came to rest upside down about 460 feet from its original departure point from the traveled lane.

As the investigation continues, NTSB will reconstruct a profile of the driver's activities in the days and hours prior to the crash to determine what factors, if any, contribute to the accident, and will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of all vehicle components on the motorcoach involved in the accident.

Click here to view the update in its entirety

ABA Taps Former CNN Reporter to Head Communications Department

ABA announced that it has hired veteran public relations manager and award-winning reporter Dan Ronan as its new Senior Director of Communications.

Ronan comes to ABA with over 20 years of experience in the communications industry. He previously worked for the American Automobile Association (AAA) Texas/New Mexico where he was the Manager of Corporate Communications/Community Relations. There, Ronan led all aspects of AAA's media coverage in 23 markets in Texas and New Mexico, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. During his tenure, he used his considerable experience in crisis management to craft AAA's messaging when Hurricane Ike struck Houston.

Before working at AAA, Ronan was a media relations consultant at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and a consultant at Weber Shandwick Worldwide, a prestigious public relations firm in Dallas.

For the first twenty years of his career, Ronan worked in television news as a producer and reporter for CNN, CNN/Financial News, WFAA-Dallas and WAGA Atlanta. During his career, Ronan won eight Emmys, including a National Emmy for his coverage of the Oklahoma City Bombing, and two Edward R. Murrow Awards.

"We're excited that Dan is joining our team," said ABA President & CEO Peter J. Pantuso. "With his years of experience as both a reporter and as a media relations professional, I know that he will help us develop a comprehensive media relations strategy for the motorcoach, tour and travel industry that works."

Ronan is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. He and his wife Lori have six children. 

ABA Participates in Roadcheck 2011

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) held its annual Roadcheck safety inspection blitz across North America between June 7th and June 9th last week.

During Roadhceck, CVSA-Certified inspectors throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico performed approximately 14 inspections every minute on buses and trucks.

This year, in large part because of the recent Sky Express accident in Virginia, Roadcheck placed a priority on doing bus inspections.

"We believe public safety is a central role of government and we also believe safety needs to be at the forefront of commercial vehicle operations. Businesses need to operate economically and efficiently, yes, but they need to operate safely as well," said CVSA President Capt. Steve Dowling.

ABA President Peter Pantuso was on hand for a kickoff event for Roadcheck, which was held in Dumfries, VA not far from the site of the Sky Express crash.

During the event, Pantuso reasserted ABA's commitment to increasing enforcement of current motorcoach safety regulation to shutdown illegal operators.

"As important as Road Check and other similar and visible one-time events can be for putting companies on notice that they will be under the microscope, it is critical that the microscope be focused on our industry every day," Pantuso said. "Our 'cargo' is much too precious and much too important to only receive sporadic attention. But all too often, the passage of time and other priorities move these tragedies and the reason they happened, down the list of growing transportation concerns." 

Tupelo to Reimburse Operators for Gas

The Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau (TCVB) has announced a new incentive to sway tour buses to spend the night. The program provides for reimbursement of roundtrip fuel to tour companies bringing groups for overnight stays meeting certain criteria.

"We are really excited to roll out this new program," said Neal McCoy, executive director of the TCVB. "We were looking for a way to grow the overnight component of our motorcoach industry and realized that many of the companies already visiting could easily include an overnight in Tupelo on their itineraries."

The program has been designed to appeal to those planning trips through the southeast to encourage them to use Tupelo as their overnight destination.

The program, slated to be available for trips after the start of the TCVB fiscal year on October 1, 2011, does have restrictions including a minimum number of room nights, limitations to the number of times a company can qualify under the program and a cap on the dollar amount per trip that can be earned. The reimbursement is calculated based on roundtrip mileage and cost of fuel the day the overnight is made.

For more information, contact Sharon McKissick, group tour sales manager at 800-533-0611. 

Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association Awards Drivers

The Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association held its 12th Annual Motorcoach Professional Awards ceremony at Resorts in Atlantic City. The award has been expanded to include drivers and any motorcoach professional that deserves special recognition. Association President Thomas Dugan along with Eagle's Legend Vince Papale, presented the 2011 Motorcoach Awards.

In order to receive this prestigious award, drivers must have a minimum of five years of accident-free driving and make at least 15 trips to Atlantic City per year. Motorcoach Professionals must have positive customer service skills and demonstrate excellence and professionalism. They were presented with a plaque, a watch, and a complimentary overnight stay at one of the Atlantic City's Casinos.

The 2011 Motorcoach Professional Award Recipients:


Al Clacys                                            Saddle River Tours

Pierre Dorceus                                 Coach USA

Robin Evans                                      Starr Transit Co., Inc

Johnny Moore                                   Coach USA

Anthony (Tony) Wilson                     Peter Pan Bus Lines

Glenn P. Woo                                    Greyhound lines

Denise Caridi                                    Classic Tours

Susan Heffelfinger                           Trans-Bridge Lines, Inc.

Marjorie A. Kunkle                            Stout’s Transportation

Donovan McDonald                         Lakeland Bus Lines

Michelle J. Petelicki                         Panorama Tours

Joseph A. Smith                                Safety Bus

Mississippi Seafood: As Delicious As Ever

Despite last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is teeming with events and activities for visitors this summer. And, just as importantly, the seafood is safe and still good to eat.

All 62 miles of beaches are pristine thanks to the efforts of diligent safety officials and cleanup crews. Wild-caught Gulf seafood is safe, delicious and available at seafood markets along the Coast and, of course, at restaurants around the state.

The Mississippi Development Authority has produced a series of videos that promote the safety of the state's seafood and beaches. They can be found on YouTube here


Veneto to Host Experience Lab

Joe Veneto, a noted tourism industry expert and former Marketplace speaker, will host an Experience Lab where he will teach destination marketers and travel suppliers the Experience Formula methodology to engineer engaging and immersive experimental tourism products for their destinations. The lab will be held on September 28- 30th in Columbus, Ohio.

The two and one-half day lab includes multiple presentations and learning sessions on the various elements of the Experience Formula. Also included are panel discussions with DMO executives and travel suppliers that have implemented the Experiential Development Process. During the Lab, there will be seven mobile workshops where attendees will experience first-hand product models that have been designed, crafted, staged, and scripted using the Experience Formula.

Veneto, aka The Opportunity Guy, is an expert in designing, crafting, scripting and staging unforgettable visitor experiences. He is the principal and founder of Opportunities Unlimited, a consulting and training organization that specializes in Tourism, Hospitality and Service related industries.

Click here for more information

Top 100 Committee Meets in Knoxville

ABA's 2012 Top 100 Selection Committee met in Knoxville, TN last week to choose the winning events and festivals for this year's publication. The winners will be announced in the September/October issue of Destinations Magazine.

ABA's Top 100 Events in North America is an annual compendium of the best events for group travel in the United States and Canada. Each spring, a committee of ABA-member motorcoach and tour operators selects the Top 100 Events for the subsequent year; the list is unveiled in September. Winners are chosen from hundreds of celebrations, festivals, fairs, commemorative events, and more that have been nominated by ABA members.

"I want to thank this year's selection committee for all of their hard work," said ABA Meetings & Events Coordinator Courtney Davis. "Thank you also to Charlotte Brothers and the rest of the staff at the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation, as well as all of their partners for hosting the selection committee this year."

The committee enjoyed Knoxville FAM activities as part of their meeting, and visited local attractions like the Knoxville Zoo, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Tennessee Riverboat. For a complete listing of the Knoxville FAM sponsors, please visit the Top 100 website. 

New ABA Members To Add To Your 2011 Motorcoach Marketer

New Members- Print and Add to your 2011 ABA Motorcoach Marketer


Bowlmor Lanes
Steve Zacks, Chief Sales & Mktg. Officer
215 Park Ave. S., Ste. 1800
New York, NY 10003
PH: (212) 777-2214
Attraction - Other

Canyon Breeze Restaurant
Heather Hermen
270 N. State Rte. 89A, Ste. 11
Sedona, AZ 86336
PH: (928) 202-2374
Food Service

Chuck Riedhammer, Mktg. Dir.
1 Heartwood Cir.
Abingdon, VA 24210
PH: (276) 492-2095 Fax: (276) 525-1950
DMO - Convention & Visitors Bureaus

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Novi MI
Gary Ward, Sales Dir.
39675 W. 12 Mile Rd.
Novi, MI 48377
PH: (248) 344-8204 Fax: (248) 344-8214


The following Motorcoach & Tour Operators have submitted application(s) for membership between January 6, 2011 through January 25, 2011 and have met all membership requirements. They are currently in the mandatory 30 Day period for member comments. Should members have comments regarding these applications, please contact abamembership@buses.org.

Coach America Elko, Nevada
Ryan Veater, G.M.
Elko, NV

James Limousine Service
(DOT #: 1744153)
Randy Allen, Owner
Richmond, VA

R.J. Rhodes Transit
(DOT #: 239894)
Robert Rhodes, Pres.
Ambridge, PA