BANGOR, Maine — Even after losing a direct airline route to Florida last spring, Bangor International Airport remains busy enough that its director is scouting out nearby land parcels to address a parking space shortage.
“It was actually overwhelming last year. This is a good problem to have, but it still remains a problem that we need a solution to,” said Tony Caruso, BIA director.
Caruso said there are a few reasons why long-term parking crunch time seems to occur in late winter-early spring: Many people take school and family vacations at that time, it’s a prime time for snow birds and retirees to travel to and from Maine and more and more Canadians — particularly from New Brunswick — are booking flights out of BIA due to a big price disparity between Canadian and U.S. air fares.
In an effort to address that problem, Caruso and some aides made a presentation to the Bangor City Council’s Airport Committee on a plan to build a $568,000 “satellite” parking lot near the intersection of Godfrey Boulevard and Maine Avenue.
That plan didn’t receive much support on Monday from councilors, as many expressed concerns about a lack of a shelter for travelers to wait for a proposed shuttle bus during adverse weather conditions. Other issues concerned location, cost and size.
After one airport official responded to a question about a lack of a bus stop or shelter, Council Chairman and Mayor Cary Weston said, “I wasn’t impressed with your answer.”
Weston also suggested possibly creating a transportation hub for city buses and taxis closer to BIA, maybe at a satellite lot location.
Committee members voted 5-0 to table the matter for a month to give BIA officials more time to address the committee’s concerns.
“We have another month to revamp our proposal and get together with code and other city officials to review our best options,” said Caruso. “We’re evaluating a few locations. We want to consider factors such as passengers’ safety, cost, location and proximity, and convenience.”
The satellite lot idea resulted from a space crunch the airport has experienced each of the last few years.
“ The last few years, we’ve known we have a peak demand period, primarily for vehicle parking, during the months of February through April,” Caruso explained. “Last year, we used every nook and cranny we could.”
Caruso isn’t exaggerating. The airport has resorted to using spots designated specifically for hotel and airport employees.
“We parked cars on Godfrey Boulevard and even used an airport hangar, and we still ran out of parking,” Caruso said.
Caruso said even with the monthlong delay, there’s still time to enact a revised parking plan before February.
“The sooner the better. We want to research all options and hope to have a solution — even temporary — but we don’t want customers’ cars parked on Godfrey again,” Caruso said.
Councilor Nelson Durgin expressed doubt as to passenger numbers increasing.
“I think losing the Allegiant Air route can have a deleterious effect on the number of passengers,” he said.
Caruso said Allegiant Air’s decision to terminate its popular direct flight service to and from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last spring came as a surprise to many.
“We started high with demand and it was steady throughout the time the service was offered,” Caruso said. “I think they had 80-90 percent [passenger] load factors, so we were a little shocked at the decision.”
Caruso said Allegiant’s performance standards are different from those of most airlines because they promote themselves as a travel package service rather than just an airline.
“Most of their business is package-based rather than flight-based, so that affects what they deem a profitable route,” said Caruso, who added that Bangor still offers service to Fort Lauderdale, but through flight connections as opposed to direct flights.
Still, Caruso doesn’t expect the change to drastically lower the demand for long and short-term passenger parking.
“We know it’ll affect our passenger numbers, but I don’t think it’ll have as much of an effect on our peak travel months,” he said.