Councilors choose new airline for Augusta

Posted Aug. 21, 2010, at 1:04 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — City councilors in Augusta have chosen Cape Air to be the city-run airport’s new commercial airline.

Cape Air would replace Colgan Air, which held the contract since at least the early 1990s.

The Kennebec Journal reports if the city’s choice is approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Cape’s four-year contract would start Nov. 1.

Critics said Colgan failed to attract more passengers to fly out of Augusta.

Cape Air, with offices in New Bedford, Mass., flies smaller planes, but officials believe it will be able to provide cheaper fares, more flights and better connections.

Colgan flies 34-passenger Saab 340-Bs with pressurized cabins, two pilots and an attendant. Cape Air flies nine-passenger Cessna 402s, with unpressurized cabins and one pilot.

“Some may see this as a step back for Augusta,” said Mayor Roger Katz. “I think it is far from being a step backward. It will be a step forward for our community, because more people will find they can fly because they will now be able to afford the flights. And there will be more flights by Cape than there would be with Colgan.”

Cape Air is used out of Rockland. The airline says passenger counts are up 14 percent since Cape Air last year replaced Colgan as the principal carrier out of Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head for flights to Boston.

Cape Air Chief Operating Officer Dave Bushy said he is confident Cape will increase the number of passengers flying out of Augusta, as it has in the Rockland area.

City councilors also said the possibility of losing the airport’s federal subsidy also played into their decision.

The government subsidizes commercial airlines that fly into airports where service is deemed essential, but where passenger traffic doesn’t generate enough income to cover expenses. That subsidy is capped at $200 per passenger.

Colgan currently operates at a subsidy of $298 per passenger. Cape Air’s proposal includes a less-than-$200-per-passenger subsidy, at $159 to $163 per passenger.

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