Starting in June, Cape Air will add a fourth daily flight to Boston — a sign of the airline’s success and an early indication that the airline is weaning itself off a federal subsidy.
“Over the last four years Cape Air has had tremendous growth at the Rutland-Southern Vermont (Regional) Airport,” said Andrew Bonney, Cape Air’s vice president of planning.
In 2008, during its first full year of operation with three round-trip flights a day, 9,639 passengers flew the airline. Last year, the number was 11,671 — a 21 percent increase.
Cape Air’s success is owed in part to fares as low as $63 each way.
But Bonney said it’s not just low fares that are responsible for the growth in business.
Frequency of flights and reliability have played a part as well.
Bonney said the reliability factor will further improve when the precision landing approach system is installed later this year at the airport.
Cape Air receives an annual federal subsidy of $797,000 under the Essential Air Services program that serves rural airports. The subsidy covers three round-trips a day.
Previous airlines that served Rutland also received a subsidy but struggled to break even. However, those airlines relied on 19-passenger planes that were more expensive to operate and tougher to fill than Cape Air’s fleet of nine-passenger Cessna 402s.
When Cape Air begins its fourth daily round-trip flight on June 29, that flight won’t receive a subsidy.
“It’s exactly what you want to see in community air service and it’s also what the Essential Air Service program was designed to do,” Bonney said, “which is to get an airline to the point where it is self-sufficient in a market.”
Prior to the local selection committee recommending Cape Air as the replacement airline for Colgan Air to serve the Rutland airport, there was some concern how Cape Air’s smaller nine-passenger planes would be accepted by the flying public, recalled Thomas Donahue of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce.
“I had to completely rethink it and then ended up strongly advocating for Cape Air,” Donahue said.
Cape Air (www.capeair.com) was competing with Montana-based Big Sky for the EAS subsidy to replace Colgan.
“Ultimately, I thought they made the absolute best presentation and were the most convincing and the most committed,” Donahue said.
He added picking Big Sky with its 19-passenger planes would have been a mistake for another reason: The airline went out of business a few months later.
He said Cape Air has exceeded expectations, surpassing 10,000 passengers.
Cape Air’s schedule as of June 29: Departing Rutland at 6:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 4:03 p.m. Departing Boston at 9:55 a.m., 1:25 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 5:43 p.m. Flight time is approximately one hour.
Based in Hyannis, Mass., Cape Air serves 40 communities in New York, New England, Mid Atlantic, Midwest, Florida, Caribbean and Micronesia. Cape Air’s newest community is Bar Harbor, Maine.
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