June 21, 2018
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BIA keeps close eye on airport in N.H.

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A small New Hampshire airport recently waived some of its fees to help attract more flights, specifically military charter flights, in a move that could have ramifications for Bangor International Airport.

According to Bill Hopper, manager of Portsmouth International Airport, the facility has decided to waive landing and fuel flowage fees for military flights through March 2010.

“Our rationale is that we’re trying to attract business, which is what any airport does,” Hopper said in a recent interview. “It’s not uncommon to waive fees to entice activity.”

BIA Director Rebecca Hupp said Bangor has no plans to change its fee structure to keep up with Portsmouth and said BIA might lose flights temporarily. But she also doesn’t think the fee waiver idea will pan out.

“It’s certainly something we are aware of and are paying attention to,” Hupp said Monday. “We continually work with carriers, but we are confident that we offer better services and amenities [than Portsmouth].”

BIA is the region’s market leader in military charter flights, and with the presence of the Troop Greeters, those flights have come to define the Bangor airport, at least in part.

While Hupp said it’s too early to tell whether the recent changes at Portsmouth have siphoned flights away from Bangor, Portsmouth airport officials told a New Hampshire newspaper late last week that it had brokered deals with two military flight companies that could bring 100 military flights to Portsmouth by year end.

Hupp said that those two companies, Omni Air of Tulsa, Okla., and World Air of Atlanta, now use BIA, but she said any reported deal is premature.

“The reality is that we may see some flights go over there, but that’s bound to happen when your competitor offers to provide free service,” she said, adding that any long-term decision favors BIA. “Despite the promise of free service, they don’t have the infrastructure we have. There is a lot more to servicing aircraft than just a long runway.”

Hopper sees it differently. He said the hope is to attract business by waiving fees and then retaining business once the fee waivers expire and once they realize the advantages of Portsmouth. He also said his intent was not to compete with BIA.

“There is still a good amount of activity in and out of Bangor,” he said. “Ultimately, that is what happens. We’re just trying to offer the best services possible.”

Bangor City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer said he understands the predicament Portsmouth is in.

“It’s a tight marketplace, and everyone is jockeying for position,” he said. “Of course, I’m very biased about BIA and the history we have here.”

Still, Palmer acknowledged that the changes might affect BIA.

The difference between the Portsmouth airport and BIA is that Bangor does not need troop flights to remain economically viable. Portsmouth doesn’t have much else. The New Hampshire airport has fallen on hard times since 2008 when Skybus folded, leaving the facility with virtually no commercial air service.

Hopper said that the recent fee changes were done to ensure that his airport reaches the 10,000-passenger plateau required by the Federal Aviation Administration to receive certain infrastructure funding. If Portsmouth eclipses 10,000 passengers, the airport will receive about $1 million in federal funding. If not, the grant drops to $150,000. By mid-September, Hopper said the airport had seen just shy of 7,000 passengers.

Hopper predicted that the fee waiver would result in savings of up to $800 per flight. BIA’s landing fee is $1.04 per 1,000 pounds of maximum takeoff weight, which averages between $300 and $430 for military charters based on aircraft size, according to Hupp. Fuel and other fees vary depending on the services that are requested, she said.

Even if BIA wanted to waive fees for military flights, though, Hupp said that’s not a realistic option.

“We would have to administer fees evenly and equitably. Because we have significantly more commercial and transit traffic that Portsmouth doesn’t have, it wouldn’t be that simple,” she said.

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