ELLSWORTH, Maine — Hancock County Commissioners on Tuesday lent their support to having two air carriers provide service to the county’s airport in Trenton.
The three-commissioner panel voted unanimously to recommend to U.S. Department of Transportation that Cape Air and Peninsula Airways be awarded Essential Air Service contracts for Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.
The two carriers would replace Colgan Air as the airport’s EAS provider.
Last September, Colgan Air petitioned DOT to end its flights to Bar Harbor, to Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle, and to Plattsburgh, N.Y. EAS service to rural airports is subsidized by DOT.
Allison Navia, manager of the Bar Harbor airport, told Hancock County commissioners Tuesday that the two carriers would coordinate to provide the level of service needed at Bar Harbor to qualify for the federal funds.
Cape Air, which already serves airports in Rockland and Augusta, would fly a nine-seat Cessna out of the airport four times a day, with a reduced schedule in the summer. Peninsula Airways, also known as Pen Air, would fly a 34-seat Saab aircraft in and out of the airport four to five times each day during the warmer months, when the summer tourist season increases traffic at the facility.
Between the two carriers, there would be at least 14 flights every week of the year from Trenton to Boston, Navia said, which would meet the minimum flight frequency required by the federal EAS contract.
Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown pointed out to Navia that Cape Air wasn’t interested in serving Bar Harbor a few years ago and asked why the firm was changing its mind.
“They feel confident they can co-bid with Pen Air and can handle it,” Navia said. Bar Harbor in the summer is a much busier airport than the ones in Rockland and Augusta, she added.
Earlier this month, federal officials announced that four firms submitted EAS bids for Maine to DOT. Hyannis, Mass.-based Cape Air, which links its flights to Jet Blue service at Logan Airport in Boston, was the only one of the four to bid on providing EAS service only to Bar Harbor.
Alaska-based Pen Air, Air Choice One in St. Louis, Mo., and Sovereign Air in Belcourt, N.D., all submitted bids to serve both Maine airports.
Scott Wardwell, director of the city-owned Presque Isle airport, said Tuesday that the airport’s advisory committee has yet to make a decision on which bid to recommend to the local City Council, which then will make the final recommendation to DOT. He said he expects those recommendations to be made sometime early next month.
Navia said she thinks the combination of service offered by Pen Air and Cape Air is the best option for the Bar Harbor airport. Air Choice One is offering service only to and from Portland, she said, whereas Sovereign Air has “a lot” of logistical hurdles to overcome before it could provide reliable service to and from Boston.
Navia said an annual fluctuation of service at Bar Harbor would better suit the seasonal change in activity at the airport than flying 34-seat airplanes in to Bar Harbor year-round, which is what Colgan does now. Cape Air and Pen Air also are expected to fly in and out of the airport at times that are more convenient for business travelers than the two midday flights that Colgan offers now, she added.
“It’s going to be excellent,” Navia said. “They both seem like very good companies.”
Navia said Cape Air has indicated it will offer $69 one-way flights from Bar Harbor to Boston, less than a third of the $235 Colgan now charges for one-way service to Logan Airport. Pen Air has not indicated what it will charge, she said, but both it and Cape Air are expected to offer occasional fare specials.
Navia said if DOT awards the Bar Harbor EAS contract to Cape Air and Pen Air, she would expect them to take over the airport’s passenger air service from Colgan in the coming months, perhaps as early as April.