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Flights to Newark may replace Boston route from Presque Isle

Anthony Brino | BDN
Anthony Brino | BDN
Passengers at Northern Maine Regional Airport wait to board a Pen Air flight to Boston on Jan. 15. 2018.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Passenger air service to Boston from Presque Isle’s Northern Maine Regional Airport could be changing to a new airline and new East Coast destination, as city and federal officials consider six new airline proposals.

The Presque Isle City Council will hold a discussion and public hearing beginning at 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22, concerning the options for a new passenger air contract at Northern Maine Regional Airport.

Since 2012, Pen Air has held that contract, providing federally subsidized daily flights to and from Boston with ticket prices starting at $117 one-way.

That contract, subsidized under the Essential Air Service program, is put up for bid every two years, and expires in June. In the past several rounds of bidding, the city has received few proposals other than from Pen Air.

But this year, the Northern Maine Regional Airport received six bids, and Presque Isle’s Northern Maine Regional Airport Advisory Committee is recommending selecting a bid from United Airlines offering round-trip service to and from Newark, New Jersey, according to a city press release.

The other bidders include Pen Air, which is proposing to continue its current service to Boston; SkyWest Airlines, proposing service to Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C.; and three airlines — SkyValue Airways, Silver Airways and Boutique Airways — all proposing service to Boston. While some of the destinations are the same, the bids all differ in their proposed flight schedules, aircrafts and ticket prices.

The advisory committee recommended choosing United’s Newark proposal. After a public hearing the city council will vote on whether to adopt the recommendation or choose another option, although the U.S. Department of Transportation will ultimately make the final decision.

The airport advisory committee decided that the United Airlines contract would offer the best range of benefits, according to city spokesperson Kim Smith.

The United Airlines service would mean flights on a 50 seat regional jet to a large hub for connecting flights, with the ability to book a larger trip through one ticket. Tickets would start at $143 one way.

United’s bid proposes to have daily flights that would have an early morning departure of 6 a.m. from Presque Isle, arriving in Newark at 8:05 a.m. According to the press release, the Newark service would mean passengers could catch other flights and arrive at destinations such as Boston at 10:06 a.m., Chicago at 11:24 a.m. and Orlando at 12:37 p.m.

The United Airlines flights from Newark to Presque Isle would leave before 10 p.m. and arrive just before midnight. On weekdays, the airline is also proposing to operate flights leaving Presque Isle at noon and arriving in Newark at 2 p.m., and flights leaving Newark at 9 a.m. and arriving in Presque Isle at 11 a.m.

Currently, Pen Air operates three daily flights between Presque Isle and Boston on weekdays and two daily flights on weekends. The flight on the 33-seat Saab 340 takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes, although it can take longer depending on the weather.

Melissa Roberts, Pen Air’s vice president of marketing and sales, said the company wants to continue providing the service to Boston. Roberts argued that Boston’s Logan Airport offers many connecting flights to national and international destinations, and that the Northern Maine Regional Airport is better suited to a medium-sized plane like the SAAB 340 than a large jet due to the airport’s relatively shorter runway.

Roberts added that Pen Air officials are hosting a meet-and-greet event at the Northeastland Hotel, at 5:30 p.m. on Tues. Jan 23.

In 2016, 12,398 people flew on Pen Air to and from Presque Isle, according to statistics from the Northern Maine Regional Airport.

Pen Air’s Boston-Presque Isle service is one of 175 flight routes to rural communities supported by the federal Essential Air Service program. The federal program spends about $200 million annually subsidizing air service in rural areas, including about $10 million for flight service to four airports in Maine.

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