PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Presque Isle Airport Advisory Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to recommend that United Airlines continue to provide Essential Air Service flights to and from Presque Isle International Airport.
The board acknowledged that the decision would anger many in the community, but said United had more than earned its endorsement through the growth the company has spearheaded during its tenure at Presque Isle International Airport.
Board members also pointed to the number of connecting flights available from Newark compared to Silver Airways’ Boston hub, and the volatility of choosing a smaller airline over a major one.
“United is far from perfect,” Board Chairman Charlie Namur said. “But maybe we are better with the devil we know than the devil we don’t know.”
The recommendation came after two lengthy presentations from Silver Airways CEO Steve Rossum and Southern Airways CEO Stan Little. United did not send a representative to the meeting for unknown reasons.
The recommendation will be considered by the Presque Isle City Council in its first meeting of the year tomorrow.
Neither vote is binding. But the city council’s recommendation will be sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has the ultimate say over who receives the contract.
The DOT’s decision is expected in February or March. The carrier chosen will begin flights under the contract at Presque Isle International starting in July.
The meeting was a long and detailed one that lasted nearly 3 1/2 hours. Though about 20 people were initially in attendance, including city of Presque Isle employees, that number had dropped to only a handful by the time of the final vote.
Silver Airways’ Rossum gave a lengthy, and sometimes blunt, address in which he heralded the consumer protections that his airline could provide, especially safety and responsibility to their customers.
Attempting to show how hands-on he was with the business, he even seemed to give the audience his personal cell phone number.
Southern Airways’ Little addressed the fact that many were uncomfortable with the nine-seat aircraft that Southern provided. But, he said that their airline more than made up for it in terms of the number of flights available, as well as cheap pricing.
Ultimately, many on the board ruled out Southern, as choosing the single-engine airline would prohibit them from ever choosing a non-single-engine carrier for future EAS service. The lack of bathrooms on their flights was also an issue for many members.
Silver had more support, but many councilors thought their CEO was making promises concerning service that he could not keep. While acknowledging that the company was under new leadership, they pointed to its prior history of unreliability, including receiving an F rating from the Better Business Bureau in 2012.
After the vote, in comments Namur said were “personal” and not as the chairman, he said he wished that more Presque Isle city councilors had attended the deliberations of this board.
“I’m a little disappointed more council members weren’t here to hear the conversation,” Namur said. “That’s their choice.”
Councilor Kevin Freeman, who was one of two councilors in attendance for the final deliberations, along with council chairman Mike Chasse and City Manager Martin Puckett, pointed out that four out of seven councilors had attended the presentation portion of the meeting.
Puckett said the entire council attended the public forum on the airport bids on Friday.