Four firms submit bids to serve Maine airports

Posted Jan. 08, 2012, at 4:32 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Three aviation firms have submitted bids to federal transportation officials to provide service to Bar Harbor and Presque Isle, while a fourth has submitted a bid to add service only to Bar Harbor.

In a prepared statement released Sunday afternoon, Sen. Susan Collins indicated that Peninsula Airways, Sovereign Air and Air Choice One all have submitted bids to the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide essential air services to the two airports. Such services, which are subsidized by the federal government, currently are provided by Colgan Air, which last September petitioned the agency to end its flights to the two airports.

Under federal Essential Air Service regulations, Colgan is not allowed to leave until a replacement is found. But there has been concern that smaller airplanes might be brought in to provide that service.

Peninsula Airways, also known as Pen Air, is based in Anchorage, Alaska. Air Choice One is based in St. Louis, Mo. It was unclear Sunday afternoon where Sovereign Air is based.

A fourth carrier, Cape Air, has submitted a bid to provide service to Bar Harbor, but not to Presque Isle, according to Collins. Cape Air, based in Hyannis, Mass., currently is the EAS provider at airports in Augusta and Rockland.

Collins said in the statement that she has told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that is is particularly important for the new EAS provider to use aircraft large enough to fly directly from Presque Isle to airports outside of Maine.

Larger planes that can hold 15 people or more can fly directly between Boston and Aroostook County, for example, which makes the trip faster than it would be if the planes had to stop in Bangor or Portland along the way. Presque Isle is about a three-hour drive from Bangor International Airport while the Bar Harbor-Hancock County Airport, which is located in Trenton, is about an hour’s drive away from BIA.

“I have [told LaHood] how important it is to maintain safe, reliable, daily air service to Presque Isle and Bar Harbor,” Collins said in the statement. “As an Aroostook [County] native, I know how important this service is to County residents and to the economic well-being of our business community and the preservation of good jobs.”

Attempts Sunday afternoon to track down officials at the airports in Bar Harbor and Presque Isle, and officials with companies that submitted the bids, were unsuccessful.

Sen. Olympia Snowe and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud also have taken an interest in finding a new carrier for the Bar Harbor and Presque Isle airports and have met with PenAir officials to discuss the possibility.

“It is absolutely vital Maine’s rural communities like those surrounding Presque Isle are connected with an air service that is safe, cost-effective and convenient,” Snowe said in a statement released Friday.

In its petition to USDOT, Colgan Air indicated it expects to end its service in 2012. Colgan Air expressed a desire to close its Boston office because the market that it serves has become smaller.

Under federal Essential Air Service regulations, the airline would not be allowed to leave until a replacement is found. But there has been concern that smaller airplanes might be brought in to provide that service.

In Presque Isle and Bar Harbor, Colgan Air offers business and leisure air travelers nonstop service to and from Boston’s Logan Airport in a 34-seat Saab 340 turbo jet prop.

Established in 1978, the Essential Air Service program provides federal assistance to air carriers serving smaller communities that otherwise might lose service because of economic factors.

BDN reporter Jen Lynds contributed to this story.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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