PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — While there are many reasons to fly out of Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle, Scott Wardwell, the airport’s director, conceded Wednesday that the customer base is not as large as he would like it to be.
Wardwell is hoping that will change now that a string of fare reductions have been put in place at the airport for some of the most popular destinations for Aroostook County residents.
The airport director said Wednesday that travelers can extend their summer vacations or get a head start on fall travel on US Airways with the latest fare reductions, which are now significantly lower for one-third of the top markets out of Presque Isle.
As part of the reductions, fliers can now travel to nine destinations at a lower price. A one-way ticket to Las Vegas, for instance, is now $129, down 28 percent from $179. A one-way ticket to Los Angeles is also $129, down from $184. Travelers can also get one-way tickets to Chicago, Pittsburgh, Rochester and Buffalo for just $99. Other deals are in place for flights to Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco.
“This is a direct result of ongoing discussions we have been having with US Airways about pricing differences between Presque Isle and Bangor [International Airport],” Wardwell explained. “I showed them the price differences between the two airports, and those differences have resulted in a downturn in business here since the late 1990s.”
In the late ’90s, Wardwell said, Northern Maine Regional Airport saw approximately 28,000 boardings a year. Since 2000, the airport has been seeing about 15,500 boardings a year. Other factors have affected boarding numbers, he said, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but the pricing differences allowed for a conversation with the airline.
“US Airways saw an opportunity to put discounted fares out there, and I hope people take advantage of them,” he said. “If people respond to the fares it strengthens our case that business is out there but is being diverted to the larger airports and that business could come here.”
The airport offers business and leisure air travelers nonstop service to and from Boston’s Logan Airport aboard US Airways Express Saab 340. The airplane departs for Logan multiple times each day, providing worldwide connections to various destinations.
In the 1970s, Wardwell said, the airport saw approximately 50,000 boardings a year. Business has been up at the airport over the past few years, according to Wardwell, and the airport continues to see strong business from Canadian travelers. But the airport continues to have difficulty attracting local traffic, as many travelers tend to drive to larger airports in Bangor, Portland or Manchester, N.H., to catch flights.
“A lot of times, they don’t consider what I call the hidden costs,” he said. “The price of the gas to get there, and a hotel room if you have to stay overnight.”
Without the traffic flying out, the airport cannot add more flights flying in, according to Wardwell.
“But if we grow this airport, it builds our capabilities and allows us to do more things,” he said. “I think the fare reduction is a good way to get some new customers in here.”
Lindsey Francis, a travel agent for Crown Travel in Presque Isle, said the agency has encountered a lot of people who are interested in flying out of Northern Maine Regional Airport lately.
“They have had a lot of cheap rates lately, or rates that are comparable with Bangor [International Airport,]” she said Wednesday afternoon. “For someone who lives in Presque Isle to be able to fly to Chicago for under $300, that is great.”
At the same time, Francis said, agents are trying to introduce more people to the concept of flying locally.
“A lot of people come in here and they have plans for a trip and they automatically say that they want to fly out of Bangor,” she said. “When we suggest Presque Isle to them, they take a second look. A lot of people don’t realize what they really have to spend in gas and hotel money to travel to Bangor in order to take a flight. For people living here, it is sometimes not even worth it when you look at how much they are going to spend in terms of money and time in the car when they can just take a five-minute trip to the airport.”
Fares are available immediately and can be booked at www.usairways.com or by calling 800-428-4322 or by contacting a travel agent.