LAKE CLEAR - Cape Air has proposed adding daily round-trip service between the Adirondack Regional Airport and White Plains during the summer months, connecting the Park by commercial airline to the New York City area as well as Boston.
Officials with the Hyannis, Mass.-based airline pitched their plan to members of the Harrietstown town board Wednesday at a meeting at the Lake Clear airport, which the town owns and operates.
The proposal comes as a $1.3 million federal Essential Air Service subsidy, awarded four years ago to Cape Air, is set to expire in February. The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a request for proposals from airlines interested in providing service at Adirondack Regional.
A Cape Air employee takes luggage from one of the airline’s nine-seat Cessna 402 planes parked outside the Adirondack Regional Airport terminal in April 2012.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Cape Air currently provides round-trip service between Lake Clear and Boston's Logan International Airport three times a day on nine-seat Cessna 402 planes. It has added an unsubsidized fourth daily flight to and from Boston during the summer months each of the last three years.
Andrew Bonney, Cape Air's vice president of planning, proposed swapping out that additional summer flight to Boston with a once-daily round-trip flight to Westchester County. He said the airline would fly to a private airport in White Plains that it already serves and then transport passengers by a Cape Air van to midtown Manhattan, the cost of which would be included in the price of airfare.
"We would keep virtually the same pattern you have now, the three daily (flights) to Boston really wouldn't get touched that much, and we would, in the middle of that, run one of the trips down to Westchester," Bonney said. "We believe the demand for New York (City) is there, and that would allow us to put our toe in the water without, as a company, taking too much more financial risk. We also know that you guys have a huge market for New York, and this would connect you down there."
Bonney said the company added service between Lebanon, N.H., and White Plains a few years ago and it's been successful in increasing passenger counts at the Lebanon airport.
The Lake Clear-to-White Plains service wouldn't be subsidized. Bonney said the airline could include it in its proposal for EAS service at Adirondack Regional, but the federal government isn't likely to pay for more than it already is.
"We can always apply for it, but I don't think they would give it to us," Bonney said. "They don't want to spend extra money."
Bonney said the White Plains flight would be about 10 minutes longer than the flight to Boston, which could be a concern for some passengers since Cape Air's small planes don't have bathrooms. The flight time now between Boston and Lake Clear is roughly 90 minutes.
The White Plains flight would cost the airline $1,500 each way to operate. Asked what the ticket prices would be, Bonney said, "They will be high, especially compared to what you're used to having here," because the fares wouldn't be subsidized. The typical airfare in the White Plains market is about $250 each way, Bonney said. Currently, a Cape Air ticket from Lake Clear to Boston runs about $100 each way, although it varies.
Town officials said they liked the idea of flights to and from White Plains, but they don't want to disrupt what's proved to be a successful service between Lake Clear and Boston. The number of passengers flying to and from the local airport has increased substantially since Cape Air took over service at the facility, from 8,119 in 2008 to 11,810 in 2012.
"I personally think the White Plains option is great," said Councilwoman Nichole Meyette, "but what would be the implications or the effects on the Boston flight, if any?"
Bonney said three flights a day to Boston in the summer "isn't a lot of seats given how big we've seen the market can be, but at the same time, you'll be mining a whole new vein of potential traffic."
If the White Plains service is successful, Cape Air may find the demand could support two unsubsidized flights in the summer, Bonney said.
Airport Manager Corey Hurwitch said he thinks the New York City connection could be beneficial, but he is also worried that it could affect private plane traffic at the airport. Some people who would normally fly to Lake Clear on their own planes from the New York City area could instead use Cape Air's White Plains service, he said.
"It's going to affect our general aviation traffic; I just couldn't say how much," Hurwitch said. "It will affect our fuel sales. There's a potential for significant loss."
If the town loses revenue from fuel sales, that could affect town taxpayers, said Councilman Ron Keough. Past dropoffs in fuel sales at the airport have resulted in big town tax levy increases.
Councilman Barry DeFuria said the town has had an interest in getting service to the New York City market for several years. He said the board was approached last week by two Saranac Lake residents, Lee Keet and Todd Smith, who asked the board to petition U.S. DOT to add a fourth subsidized flight to New York City in the EAS request for proposals.
The RFP is already out, so the possibility of a fourth subsidized flight seems unlikely, DeFuria said, "but now it looks like it can happen regardless of that, which is a plus. I just have a concern if it affects that Boston flight, because that's working."
Proposals due Oct. 30
Earlier Wednesday, Hurwitch told the Enterprise that while town officials are pleased with Cape Air's service, they'd also like see what other airlines may offer, such as bigger planes that could carry more passengers.
"We've had a great relationship with Cape Air, but we're definitely interested to see if anyone else is interested, too," Hurwitch said. "Watertown got jet service from American Eagle under the EAS, and if we were offered jet service, that would be a hard thing to look the other way on."
U.S. DOT is accepting proposals for EAS service at Adirondack Regional until Oct. 30. The RFP says any proposals submitted will be made public after they're received.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.