Oct. 01--AUGUSTA -- Colgan Air is out and Cape Air is in at the Augusta State Airport.
The federal Department of Transportation, echoing a previous vote by the Augusta City Council, this week selected Cape Air, and its smaller planes and lower cost, to provide passenger service at the airport for the next four years.
While not a surprise -- airport manager John Guimond said federal officials generally grant the contract to the airline recommended by local officials, as they have in the past in Augusta -- it is a significant change for the airport. Colgan has provided air service there since at least the early 1990s.
"The airport and city and state are extremely excited about Cape Air coming on board," Guimond said Thursday. "It's going to bring low airfares and a connection to Jet Blue Terminal C in Boston. It's going to be a seamless transition."
Guimond said people with existing tickets to fly with Colgan will have their tickets honored by Cape.
The federal order states the transition will take place Nov. 1. However, Guimond said, that's the earliest it can happen. He said Cape and Colgan would work out a transition plan. He anticipates the change taking place between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1.
Colgan flies 34-passenger Saab 340-Bs with pressurized cabins, two pilots and an attendant between Augusta and Boston. Cape Air flies nine-passenger Cessna 402s, with unpressurized cabins and one pilot.
The costs of the service, and corresponding federal subsidy, were a major factor in the selection of Cape over Colgan.
Through the Essential Air Service program, the federal government subsidizes commercial airlines that fly into airports where service is deemed essential, but where passenger traffic doesn't generate enough income to cover expenses.
The subsidy is capped at $200 per passenger.
Colgan currently operates at a subsidy of $298 per passenger. Cape Air's proposal includes a less than $200-per-passenger subsidy, at $159 to $163 per passenger.
Cape's proposal will require a federal subsidy of $1.36 million each year of the four-year contract, versus an estimated $2.2 million for Colgan.
Cape plans to offer four nonstop flights during the summer, and three nonstop in winter.
Some Augusta city councilors said they received more public input on the airport decision than any other issue in their tenures.
Officials and frequent customers of Colgan argued, before the city and DOT, that its larger planes were safer and more comfortable.
But councilors said the issue of the airport's federal subsidy, and the possibility of losing it, was too big to ignore.
DOT officials, in the federal decision, said both carriers were considered "fit" to provide passenger service between Augusta and Boston.
Cape Air Chief Operating Officer Dave Bushy said he is confident Cape will increase the number of passengers flying out of Augusta, as it has in Rockland.
Keith Edwards -- 621-5647 email@example.com
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