Cape Air, Boutique Air make final pitch for Massena’s essential air service contract

Cape Air

By BOB BECKSTEAD
BBECKSTEAD@OGD.COM

Cape Air officials told the Town Council if they’re awarded the Essential Air Service contract for Massena International Airport in 2017, they’re willing to accept a one-year contract and can discuss bringing in larger planes to serve the community.

“If fleet is the issue here, we can solve that. Know that that is on the table,” Andrew Bonney, Cape Air’s senior vice president of planning, said during a public meeting with the council Wednesday night.

Mr. Bonney said Cape Air would work with the council to bring in larger planes, a desire expressed by some councilmen.

“If you want ATRs, we would literally buy them today,” he said.

The ATR-42 is capable of handling more than 40 passengers. Planes flying in and out of Massena are limited to nine passengers.

Speaking before an audience that filled the meeting room at the Massena Town Hall, Mr. Bonney recommended that councilmen give Cape Air a one-year extension on its contract. At the end of that year, if Cape Air had not been able to address the councilmen’s concerns, board members could revisit their choice. Cape Air has provided the local EAS service since 2008.

Cape Air, which is based in Massachusetts, also offers flights from Ogdensburg and Saranac Lake, and travels from Massena to Albany and Boston and back.

The company is competing for the EAS contract with California-based Boutique Air. Boutique Air officials have said the airline could offer flights to Boston, Albany, Baltimore, Buffalo or Chicago, depending on the community’s desires.

For some audience members who responded to Mr. Bonney, it was too late for Cape Air to make a difference. One man said that in the eight years Cape Air had served Massena, this was the first time it had discussed issues such as larger planes and using a two-person crew rather than one, “which has historically never happened.”

“I think the town as a whole needs to decide where you want to go. For Massena to move forward, the airport has to be more visible. Your aircraft have to be upgraded,” Edward Kaneb Jr. said.” I don’t take Cape Air. I can’t take the aircraft. If your aircraft is too small, I’m not going to get in it. I’m going to drive to Montreal.”

Resident David Bence, however, said Cape Air had done a good job, in his estimation.

“Overall I don’t know if we could do any better” he said. “I’ve been dealing with Cape Air for eight years. They’ve done as good a job as anybody has here in 53 years.”

Boutique Air’s main draw is its flexibility in destinations.

“Really, we can go to any of those places,” Boutique Air Chief Executive Officer Shawn Simpson said.

“Chicago is farther away and more expensive. The DOT may not sign off on that. The rest of them are in range.”

Another audience member said he had flown with Cape Air 15 to 20 times and had not experienced issues, and wanted that to continue.

“If you get the contract, that’s the kind of service I expect,” he said.

Among the company’s fleet is the Pilatus PC-2, which has an eight-passenger executive configuration.

“This is sort of the primary plane we’ve been using,” Mr. Simpson said.

Boutique Air also flies the nine-passenger King Air 350, which is larger, has more range and can carry more baggage. He said, unlike Cape Air’s fleet, theirs are pressurized so they can fly higher and go over the weather.

He promoted the company’s offerings, such as no fees for baggage, cancellations, accompanied minors or pets.

Mr. Simpson said fares would likely start in the $39 to $49 range for shorter routes, and from $59 to $89 for routes that are farther.

Councilmen met in executive session following Wednesday night’s presentations, but did not make a decision on which airline they would support. They’ll meet again on Wednesday and expect to have a decision then, according to Mr. Gray, to meet the Dec. 9 deadline.