Three airlines make pitches to town board for Massena airport contract
BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week
MASSENA -- Town councilors heard pitches from three airlines for the Essential Air Service contract on Monday. The federal subsidy brings daily flights in and out of rural airports, including Massena International Airport.
The board heard from their current EAS provider, Boutique Air; their former EAS provider, Cape Air; and Southern Airlines.The Town Council will have to recommend the carrier they want to the US Department of Transportation by Dec. 4.
Cape Air Proposal
Cape Air is proposing three daily flights to and from Albany, with the outbound flights continuing to Boston Logan Airport and JFK Airport in New York City. Two of the flights would continue to Logan, and a third to JFK. They would fly twin-propeller nine-passenger Tecnam Traveler planes, which allow for two pilots but are certified to fly with one. The cabins are not pressurized.
Cape Air CEO Dan Wolf told the councilors they would have a backup Tecnam, but in some instances they may have to fly passengers on a Cessna 402.
"Might there ever be a case where we might need to backfill with a 402 ... we'd rather do that than actually cancel a flight," Wolf said.
He said they have interline agreements with larger carriers, like Delta, United and American, and passengers can transfer their checked luggage if going from Cape Air to a connecting flight.
Town Councilor Sue Bellor asked how old is the Cape Air fleet, and how many pilots generally fly at once.
Wolf said their oldest in the fleet, the Cessna 402, is from 1985. He added that the company would add a second pilot per flight, if the town wanted it.
Andrew Bonney, the airline's senior vice president of planning, said their flights from Massena to Boston, with the Albany stop, would take about two hours and 20 minutes.
Councilor Sam Carbone asked why they need to make the Albany stop.
Bonney said it's to allow a bathroom break for the passengers.
"We think it's better to make a stop," he said. "It also allows us to serve your state capital."
Cape Air is bidding jointly for both Massena and Ogdensburg's EAS contracts.
Bonney said the proposals are linked "because we need the critical mass in the area for the service to work."
Southern Airlines Proposal
Southern Airlines said the Town Council would get to pick where the flights go.
Stan Little, Southern's CEO, said they would fly to destinations "recommended by you, the board, to the DOT, and I cannot think of a single occasion where the DOT chooses a destination city that's not what you recommended." He was referring to the United States Department of Transportation, which oversees the EAS program.
"In the event a destination had to be changed at one point, that could be accomplished with a recommendation from the town board, which Boutique is in the process of doing now," Carbone said.
Their main airplanes would be Pilatus PC12s, which Little said are from 2012 or newer. Their backup is a 2008 Cessna Caravan, he said.
The Southern Airlines proposal would make Massena one of their maintenance hubs.
"The idea is we want to grow a web and a route network up there that is more than just what EAS provides the basis for," Little said.
He said their flights would be under $100 per passenger.
"We generally go from $39 to $99 with the average in the middle," he said, adding that they have an interline agreement with American Airlines, and are hoping to begin an interline deal with United Airlines next year.
Southern is also bidding on Ogdensburg's EAS contract, separately from the one for Massena.
Boutique Air Proposal
Boutique Air is proposing to keep their daily Boston flights, and add flights to Baltimore. They are planning to use new Italian-made Piaggio airplanes. Their vice president of business development, Tom Warren, said the Piaggios are designed with Massena's airport in mind.
"We worked with you on the seating configuration, and we worked to get an aircraft we think will be beneficial for you," he said. He added that the heat from the engines would de-ice the wings in the wintertime.
Right now, Boutique is using eight-seat Pilatus PC12s with pressurized cabins.
With the faster Piaggios, Warren said flights to Boston would be an hour and five minutes, and an hour and 45 minutes to Baltimore. With a "lower and slower" aircraft, they can make the Boston trip in 90 minutes, he said.
Their flights will connect to other destinations, like Florida. Warren said the day of his presentation, a Massena to Miami one-way ticket would be $158, and $134 from Massena to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
They do not charge bag fees, change fees or pet fees, Warren said.
He said if passengers exceed their limit of 50 pounds, the passenger can bring their excess luggage the day before and have it sent to their destination and have it waiting for them.
"There's no baggage limit on Boutique," he said. "As long as they come drop those off within 24 hours, we'll put those bags on an earlier flight."
Boutique's proposal for Massena comes with the potential for job creation, Warren said.
They want to use Massena to convert engines, like the Pilatus propeller motors, to electrical with hydrogen fuel.
"The goal and the idea in working with the Town of Massena ... is to fund that effort in the state of NY, provide 50-plus skilled jobs for Massena and the St. Lawrence Valley," Warren said.
He said Boutique is also bidding on Ogdensburg's EAS contract, separately from Massena's.