Still Cape Air, still (just) to Boston

SARANAC LAKE – Cape Air will continue flying passengers between Boston’s Logan International Airport and the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear, but a route through White Plains is off the table, at least for now.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, in an order filed last week, awarded the Hyannis, Mass.-based airline a four-year, $1.8 million annual subsidy to continue providing three daily round-trip flights between Boston and Lake Clear using nine-seat Cessna 402 planes. Cape Air has been the Lake Clear airport’s commercial passenger service airline since February 2008. It was the only company to submit a bid for the airport’s federal Essential Air Service subsidy.

The airline had asked for $1,891,456 a year for a two-year contract or $1,832,064 for four years, and DOT awarded the latter. It had previously received a $1.3 million annual subsidy.

Cape Air had also submitted a separate proposal – referred to as option B – that would have provided the same three flights plus one daily round trip to the Westchester County Airport in White Plains. For this option, the company wanted $2,662,802 annually for two years or $2,579,190 under a four-year contract.

The proposal to add White Plains service had been backed by a group of local residents, several major employers and institutions in the Tri-Lakes area and local, state and federal elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Bill Owens and state Sen. Betty Little. It was seen as a way to connect the region to the New York City market for both business and leisure travelers.

DOT said the community’s comments were given “significant weight,” but it said adding the White Plains service made the contract too expensive. The agency said the purpose of the EAS program is to provide a “safety-net level of air service to connect communities to the national air transportation system that otherwise would not have service” and that the option it picked “fully meets the community’s EAS needs.

“While the community supports the additional service to (White Plains), Cape Air’s Option B four-year proposal is $747,126 more than the Option A four-year proposal,” wrote Susan Kurland, the agency’s Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs. “We cannot reasonably justify providing federal subsidy to support increased service to a community that already has sufficient air service connecting it to the national air transportation system.”

Kurland wrote, however, that DOT would allow Cape Air to switch out one of its daily Boston-Lake Clear round trips to White Plains, if the community supports it.

Andrew Bonney, Cape Air’s vice president for planning, said the company is “delighted” to be selected to continue providing service at Adirondack Regional.

“We’ve had the privilege of serving the community since 2008,” Bonney told the Enterprise Friday. “Over the last six years we’ve actually built ridership at the airport to a high not seen since the 1980 Olympics. We feel like it’s a good fit for us and the ridership.”

Asked about not getting the White Plains option, Bonney said he understands the DOT’s rationale and said it’s consistent with the agency’s other recent EAS selection and re-selection orders.

Is swapping one of the Boston flights for White Plains an option? Bonney said Cape Air feels that would “reduce the critical mass of the schedule that people need to connect and have great access to Boston.

“That being said, we are acutely aware of the strong desire to connect Adirondack Regional Airport to the New York metropolitan area,” Bonney said. “We’re taking a good, hard look right now at what we can do, possibly on a seasonal basis, to provide that service outside the auspices of the Essential Air Service program.”

Adirondack Regional Airport Manager Corey Hurwitch said he wasn’t surprised the White Plains option wasn’t picked.

“They kind of told us it was a long shot to begin with, but because of the public interest in it, we figured we would continue to pursue it,” he said. “We’re happy they did go with a four-year contract because we’ve had a good experience with Cape Air. They’ve had good numbers in and out of here, and they’re easy to work with.”

Hurwitch said town of Harrietstown officials are still interested in pursuing service to the New York City market. The Lake Clear airport is owned and operated by the town.

Hurwitch said he would have liked to see interest in the airport’s subsidy from more than one airline.

“It would have been nice to see competition, but I’m not disappointed,” he said. “I’d find it hard for another carrier to make a case better than Cape Air has. They’ve proven themselves, and we like working with them.”

The last few summers, Cape Air has provided additional, unsubsidized flights to Boston. Bonney said the company plans to continue to do so going forward.

Cape Air is also in the process of locating a ticket office in downtown Saranac Lake. Bonney wouldn’t reveal where yet because the contract for the space is still being negotiated, but he said it should open sometime in the near future.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.