PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The U.S Department of Transportation has chosen the carriers that will provide critical flight services to airports in Presque Isle and Bar Harbor.
Federal officials announced Friday that Peninsula Airways of Alaska will continue to operate under the Essential Air Service program at both the Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle and the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton. Specifically, PenAir will service Presque Isle year-round and provide additional service to Bar Harbor in the summer, while Cape Air will increase its presence in Maine by serving Bar Harbor year-round.
PenAir will use a 34-passenger Saab 340 aircraft to operate 19 weekly round trips, year-round, between Presque Isle and Boston.
Cape Air will operate year-round providing service between Bar Harbor and Boston. From September through May, Cape Air will operate three daily round-trips using a 9-seat Cessna 402 aircraft. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, Cape Air will provide just one daily round trip with the smaller plane, but PenAir will provide two additional daily nonstop flights between Bar Harbor and Boston using a 34-seat Saab 340 aircraft.
Colgan Air, which operates as U.S. Airways Express in the region, will continue to provide services at both airports until the transitions are complete, according to the Department of Transportation.
Colgan Air petitioned the Department of Transportation in September 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.
The Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program, established in 1978 during the period of airline deregulation, provides federal assistance to air carriers serving smaller communities that otherwise might lose service because of economic factors.
Under EAS regulations, Colgan Air was not to be allowed to leave until a replacement could be found. But there has been concern that another carrier would bring in smaller airplanes to provide that service.
In Presque Isle and Bar Harbor, Colgan Air currently provides business and leisure air travelers nonstop service to and from Boston’s Logan Airport in a 34-seat Saab 340 turbo jet prop.
Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Rep. Mike Michaud all spoke to officials at the Department of Transportation, 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.
Federal officials announced in January 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 PenAir, Air Choice One in St. Louis, Mo., and Sovereign Air in Belcourt, N.D., all submitted bids to serve both Maine airports. Sovereign later withdrew its bid.
In January, Hancock County Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend to U.S. DOT that Cape Air and Peninsula Airways jointly be awarded EAS contracts for Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport. The Presque Isle City Council also endorsed PenAir to be the carrier at the Northern Maine Regional Airport.
On Friday, Snowe hailed news that the U.S. Department of Transportation had agreed to terms.
“I am pleased to officially welcome the PenAir team to Maine as they prepare to service the Presque Isle and Bar Harbor airports, and I congratulate Cape Air on expanding its reach in Maine by serving Bar Harbor as well,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to working hand-in-glove with both airlines and officials at each airport to ensure Mainers continue to have affordable, reliable, and convenient service in both markets. I am pleased that PenAir will be utilizing 34-seat aircrafts, and that they will continue to connect rural areas of our state with Boston, which is home to New England’s largest airport and connections to major cities across the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.”
Collins was equally pleased.
“As a native of Aroostook County, I understand how important regularly scheduled and reliable air service is to rural areas,” said Collins. “When I spoke to [U.S. DOT] Secretary [Ray] LaHood, I stressed how critical this is not only for residents, but also for the economic well-being of our communities. I commend Secretary LaHood for listening to my concerns, and for working to ensure that these communities can continue to depend on reliable air service to help attract business, promote tourism and create jobs.”
Michaud, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also was glad to hear the news.
“I’m pleased the Department of Transportation has secured replacement carriers,” said Michaud. “The loss of this service would have been devastating to both Bar Harbor and Presque Isle. I look forward to working with the communities to make sure these replacements are a success in each region.”