TRENTON, Maine — Hancock County has upgraded its airport in order to accommodate larger airplanes, and as a result the Route 3 facility has a new capability.
By changing the facility from Class III to Class I, the county is required to create and staff a new rescue and fire department for the airport, according to Airport Manager Bob Cossette.
Cossette said Monday that the airport has a new firetruck and a trained staff of seven people who can respond to emergencies at the airport.
Colgan Air, the company that until now has been flying 19-seat passenger planes into Bar Harbor, has decided to switch to 34-seat passenger planes, Cossette said. Pinnacle Airlines, which recently acquired Colgan, has a philosophy of minimizing the different types of equipment it uses and maintains, he said, and so is phasing out the 19-seat planes.
A fire and rescue department is a Federal Aviation Administration requirement for airports that accommodate larger airplanes, according to Cossette. Without the on-site fire department, Colgan would have stopped flying into Bar Harbor.
“The only way we could do that was with our own staff,” Cossette said.
Three full-time firefighters now work at the airport, while two other members of the airport’s staff have been trained to respond to emergencies in the event they are needed, Cossette said. There also are two on-call firefighters who work at the airport part time.
The cost of running the airport fire department, which is expected to be $295,000 in its first year, is being passed on entirely to Colgan Air, which has not objected to the expense, according to the airport manager. The cost in 2010 is expected to decrease to $275,000, but then to increase after that as operating costs go up.
Cossette said Colgan Air is required to offer year-round service to Bar Harbor, even though the number of its passengers dips sharply during the winter months. Most of its summer flights are full, which makes officials optimistic that the larger planes also will fill up during tourist season, he said.
“During the summer months, there’s definitely a need for it,” he said.
The cost of operating the 34-seat planes is the same as that for the 19-seat aircraft, Cossette said, so the airline’s operating costs should be about the same while it is hoped its summer revenue will increase.
The number of passengers who use the county airport has decreased in recent years. For the first 10 months of 2007, it had nearly 22,000 passengers, while during the same time period this year it had just shy of 20,000.
Cossette said some people prefer to fly on larger planes. The new ones coming into Bar Harbor will have flight attendants and bathrooms, which the 19-seat planes lacked.
“I’m very hopeful this will help the airport tremendously,” Cossette said. “We’d like to see the larger airplanes bring our passenger numbers back up.”
He said Colgan’s first 34-seat plane is scheduled to depart the airport on Jan. 5.