Pushing for NYC area flights

SARANAC LAKE – The area’s biggest employers support a push to add commercial airline service between the New York City area and the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear.

Adirondack Health, North Country Community College, Paul Smith’s College, St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers, Trudeau Institute and The Wild Center, among others, have sent letters to town of Harrietstown Supervisor Bob Bevilacqua, asking the town to petition the U.S. Department of Transportation for a fourth subsidized flight under the Essential Air Service program.

Cape Air currently provides three daily round-trip flights between the Lake Clear airport, which is run by the town, and Boston’s Logan International Airport under the EAS program. It provides a fourth, unsubsidized daily flight to Boston in the summer and has proposed switching that to White Plains, in Westchester County outside New York City.

Cape Air’s EAS contract will expire in March, and DOT is currently soliciting bids from interested airlines.

Saranac Lake residents Todd Smith and Lee Keet have been working to get the area’s business community behind the idea of adding service between Lake Clear and the New York City area. Smith asked the town board Thursday night to sign a letter supporting the plan.

“Essentially what we’re asking the DOT for is (to subsidize) one more flight,” Smith said. “The ultimate goal is to see expanded service to service both Boston and New York City via Westchester (County).”

Smith pointed to the Lebanon, N.H., airport, which is also served by Cape Air under the EAS program. It added flights to White Plains several years ago, and the airport now serves about 2,000 more passengers than before, Smith said.

Smith provided the Enterprise with copies of the letters written by local business leaders who support adding service to New York City.

“Not only would this benefit local businesses and tourism industries, these flights to NYC would be an asset for recruitment and retention of physicians and their spouses at Adirondack Health,” wrote Chandler Ralph, president and CEO of Adirondack Health, the area’s largest private employer.

“Flights to NYC would be an asset as The Wild Center uses Cape Air on a regular basis for business travel and would benefit even more from having flights to NYC as two of our four Board meetings a year are held in the city,” wrote Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director of the Wild Center nature museum in Tupper Lake. “This would also help with our staff, visitors and consultants ease of travel to and from the region.”

If the campaign gets the town’s support, Smith said he’d also approach the Saranac Lake village board, the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, based in Lake Placid. The letters of support would be put together and sent to U.S. Rep. Bill Owens and then to DOT, Smith said.

Earlier this month, Cape Air officials met with the town board and pitched a plan to provide daily round-trip service between Lake Clear and White Plains during the summer months. That flight would replace a fourth unsubsidized flight to and from Boston that the company has provided each of the last three summers.

Andrew Bonney, Cape Air’s vice president for planning, said at the time that the airline could include the proposal for service between Lake Clear and White Plains in its EAS bid, but he said the federal government isn’t likely to pay for more flights than it already does.

Councilman Barry DeFuria told Smith that Cape Air recently tried to add another subsidized flight from the Rutland, Vt., airport.

“They got letters from every political person they could get, and DOT refused them,” he said.

Smith said it can’t hurt to ask.

“Basically all we’re doing is asking,” he said. “We have received preliminary support from Bill Owens. What he’s looking for is the support of the town, the village and every major institution.”

“I have no problem asking for it,” Bevilacqua said. “I just don’t want it to affect the flights to Boston.”

Bevilacqua also noted that airport manager Corey Hurwitch has raised concerns about passenger service to White Plains reducing the number of private planes that fly into Lake Clear. The town’s revenue from those private planes goes a long way toward paying the airport’s bills.

“Some of the people who fly on the (general aviation) end, they could come on the commuter end, too,” Bevilacqua said. “We don’t want it to be detrimental to our operations out there. It all depends on if it increases our ridership. In the end, it might work out, but I don’t have any problem asking for it.”

The board voted unanimously to write the letter.

DOT is accepting proposals for EAS service at Adirondack Regional until Oct. 30. The town will get to weigh in on that process, and Smith asked the board to get input from the community before it makes a decision.

“We’ve really worked long and hard to establish a route to Boston,” he said. “We don’t want to lose that. I ride that all the time. I would still ride that. The idea of going to New York is an alternate market, and it’s actually our major market for the Adirondacks. By asking for that and having an airline support it, that would be something that would be beneficial to everybody in the community.”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.