Albert J. Marro / STAFF FILE PHOTO
Departing passengers watch the arrival of a Cape Air flight at the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport.
Six years after it began its Rutland-to-Boston service, Cape Air has plans to add a daily flight to the New York City area and open a ticket office in the downtown.
Cape Air is seeking to renew its federal subsidy to continue three daily flights from Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport to Boston and add one daily round trip to White Plains, N.Y., a suburb of New York City.
Andrew Bonney, Cape Air vice president of planning, said for several years the airline and community leaders have had discussions about adding a New York flight.
Bonney said based on its experience in Lebanon, N.H., Cape Air decided it could work in Rutland as well.
“It’s worked really well in Lebanon and so we wanted to create an option for Rutland to have that same type of service,” Bonney said.
The proposed average one-way fare to White Plains is $90, and includes ground transportation into midtown Manhattan.
Cape Air flights arrive at a private terminal at Westchester County Airport. Once there, passengers board a Cape Air van into Manhattan, arriving at 35th Street and Eighth Avenue, near Penn Station. Travel time is 2.5 hours from Rutland to midtown Manhattan.
If approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, service to New York could begin in November.
Cape Air applied for a four-year Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy of $1.94 million a year to provide three daily round trip flights to Boston and one daily round trip flight to White Plains.
If the DOT, doesn’t go along with adding the New York service, Cape Air also submitted a proposal to continue the Boston service for $1.36 million a year.
The New York flight would be a nice addition, especially for leisure travelers, said Thomas Donahue of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s one of those things that would probably make the Rutland Region that much more viable,” said Donahue, the Chamber’s executive vice president.
But Donahue also said the New York service should not come at the expense of cutting back service to Boston.
He said Cape Air is at its EAS subsidy limit of 21 flights a week, so the New York service would require special approval from the DOT.
Bonney said the six-year-old service between Rutland and Boston has been a remarkable success.
“Our ridership has increased two and a half times since we started,” he said. “It’s really been phenomenal growth.”
He said it’s worked for the airline, for the Department of Transportation “but most importantly for the community.”
Over the years, several airlines have come and gone from Rutland. Other airlines have used larger 19-passenger aircraft, but Cape Air has found a niche with its fleet of 74, nine-passenger Cessna 402C aircraft.
Bonney said the ingredients to Cape Air’s success is that it also offers reliable and affordable service.
In 2008, its first full year of service, Cape Air flew 9,639 passengers. Last year, that number was 11,731.
The EAS program was created to provide scheduled air service to rural airports with the ultimate goal of weaning airlines off the subsidy. In Cape Air’s case, Rutland isn’t there yet.
Bonney said due to changing circumstances the airline is seeking a greater subsidy this time around. He said at the same time the airline wants to keep fares low, expenses, including aviation fuel, keep going up.
“When we bid four years ago, it was a different cost environment,” he said.
On the ground, Cape Air will open a downtown ticket office.
Bonney said an office will increase public awareness about the airline and the airport. He said the office will be staffed to answer any questions. “It’s great when you can have a nice friendly person do that right there in your downtown area,” he said.
Donahue said one possible location is on West Street next to Small Dog Electronics.
The subsidy request has the support of the state’s congressional delegation.
In a joint letter to the Department of Transportation, Sens. Patrick Leahy, Bernard Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch noted the importance of the current Boston air service to the economy of southern Vermont.
The delegation said that easy access to New York City is equally important “to the health of the Rutland-area economy.”
“Southern Vermont’s globally recognized firms — from Orvis to General Electric — need better alternatives to reaching New York City.”
The letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also emphasized how the tourism industry is “heavily dependent on visitors from the New York City area” and that White Plains would provide “a much needed transportation alternative and provide for significant economic growth in the region.”
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