June passenger numbers soar over last year at Owls Head

Posted July 04, 2010, at 9:01 p.m.

OWLS HEAD, Maine — The number of people boarding Rockland-area planes is soaring over last year’s numbers. This June set an all-time record at Knox County Regional Airport of 712 passengers hopping onto Owls Head planes.

Last month’s total was a 36 percent increase in passenger rates over June 2009, and 69 percent over June 2008.

These are the best numbers Knox County Regional Airport has seen since the summer of 2001, and that is not a coincidence, according to the airport’s manager, Jeffery Northgraves.

“The fact that 2001 was the high was because of 9-11. We had been increasing our passenger movements over the years; 2001 reached the peak in June, July and August. All those months were high, then in September it just dropped significantly,” he said. “It has taken a few years to get back to where we were prior to 2001.”

Cape Air stated in a press release that the airline is working to add more flights for busy days to keep up with the demand.

“Our formula of offering small communities affordable and convenient flights connecting with Boston’s major air carriers is definitely resonating and continuing to grow,” Andrew Bonney, Cape Air’s vice president of planning, said in the release. “In June 2010 more passengers flew out of Knox County Regional Airport than in any year since at least 1985. Additionally, Cape Air’s advance bookings at Rockland are up 27 percent compared with last year.”

Michele Hayne, communications director for Cape Air, said Sunday that the Knox County airport is “a poster child for Cape Air.”

“We couldn’t be happier,” she added.

Northgraves said the rise in enplanements to 712 in a month validates the county’s decision two years ago to go with Cape Air as its airline. Cape Air replaced Colgan Air, which flew larger planes. Having smaller nine-passenger planes has allowed the Knox County airport to offer five flights a day to Boston, and more on Fri-days. The number of flights drops to three a day in the winter.

Augusta and Bar Harbor had the same choices in airline carriers, but they went with the other provider, Northgraves said. Those two airports pay for on-grounds firefighters and the construction of a fire station, which increases ticket prices, and they also have a harder time landing planes on icy runways in the winter, according to Northgraves.

Another possible reason ticket sales from Owls Head jumped could be that the single airline carrier teamed up with Jet Blue last January. Now, when people search for flights online from Florida to Maine, for instance, Owls Head shows up as a landing option, Northgraves said.

But what it ultimately comes down to is price, he said.

“We have more frequent flights coming and going, but the main thing is the price,” Northgraves said. Round-trip tickets to and from Boston usually cost $120.

“Last year when the economy was in the toilet we were still showing larger numbers. The total in 2009 was up over 11 percent over 2008. … It has to be because it is cheaper to fly to Boston than to take the bus or your own car,” he said.

Northgraves estimated that the airport sees about 14,500 people getting onto planes in Owls Head each year.

The contract for Knox County Regional Airport is up for bid this year. Cape Air representatives have said in previous Knox County commissioner meetings that it will reapply to continue its Maine service.

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