Decision on new air carrier for Presque Isle could come this week

Posted Feb. 14, 2012, at 2:51 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 16, 2012, at 2:48 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials with an airport in Presque Isle are awaiting a decision at the federal level — possibly as early as this week — concerning which air carrier will be bringing its planes onto the runway in the coming months.

Scott Wardwell, airport director at Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle, said late Monday that he is waiting for information from the U.S. Department of Transportation about two air carriers looking to provide services to the airport. Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton also is awaiting a decision from the U.S. DOT.

At this point, Wardwell said he is optimistic that the U.S. DOT will choose Peninsula Airways, or Pen Air, of Anchorage, Alaska, which was the first company to publicly announce intentions to bid.

Colgan Air, which operates as U.S. Airways Express in the region, petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation four months ago to end its service between Boston and Presque Isle and between Bar Harbor and Boston, sometime this year. 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.

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.

Originally, there were three bids to replace Colgan in Presque Isle, including Pen Air, Air Choice One of St. Louis and Sovereign Air of Minneapolis. In the past few weeks, Sovereign Air withdrew its bid.

During a Presque Isle City Council meeting last week, the councilors officially supported Pen Air as the replacement, which Wardwell said he was happy about.

“I think that Pen Air will give us the service we want,” he said. “It was the one we wanted not just because of its dependability, but also because Air Choice One didn’t submit a bid for the size plane that we were looking for.”

Pen Air also plans to bring a 34-seat Saab 340 turbo jet prop to the airport. It has offered 19 round-trip nonstop flights a week to Boston.

Air Choice One stated its intention to bring a Cessna Grand Caravan, which can seat up to 12 passengers and two captains, according to manufacturer’s data.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud all have spoken to officials at the U.S. DOT, stressing the importance of finding cost-effective, convenient carriers to service the airports. They also stressed the importance of the new EAS provider using aircraft large enough to fly directly from Presque Isle to airports outside of Maine without having to stop in Bangor or Portland to refuel.

“Pen Air has a record of reliability, it has a climate similar to here in Maine and they have pretty much the same schedule as Colgan,” said Wardwell.

After the bids were submitted the U.S. DOT opened a 30-day public comment period that ended Feb. 7.

In January, Hancock County commissioners voted unanimously to recommend to U.S. DOT that Cape Air and Peninsula Airways be awarded EAS contracts for Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.

They agreed that 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.

Cape Air now is the EAS provider at airports in Augusta and Rockland. They did not bid on the Presque Isle market.

CORRECTION:

An early version of this story requires correction. Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport has never offered flights to Plattsburg, N.Y. It offers daily flights to Logan Airport in Boston.

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