June 06--BANGOR, Maine -- Bangor International Airport threw a party Thursday to welcome back United Airlines, more than 20 years after the company pulled out of the city.
A 70-seat Bombardier CRJ700 from Chicago O'Hare International Airport set its tires down on the Queen City's tarmac for the first time around 4:40 p.m. Thursday, with media, airport, city and airline officials on hand to watch. United announced in February it would bring nonstop seasonal service between Chicago and Bangor. The flight was greeted by a pair of firetrucks spraying arches of water over the plane.
"An airline like United entering our market shows our reputation," Airport Director Tony Caruso said Thursday. "The airport, the city, our community partners banded together and worked hard with United to make this a possibility."
The United flights are a welcome addition to an airport that has seen a rough first half of 2014.
Dwindling military charter flights is good news for the nation as wars overseas wind down but bad news for the airport's bottom line. Military flights have been a significant revenue contributor to the Bangor airport for about a decade, Caruso said. Increasing fuel prices, a recession and financial struggles among airlines didn't help.
At the beginning of this year, the airport announced 25 layoffs, though five of those people were invited back on a part-time basis to help with United and Allegiant Airlines flights. Even though 2013 saw the best passenger turnout since 2005, it wasn't enough to stem the cuts.
Looking ahead to fiscal year 2015, the airport saw it was facing a $314,000 budget gap. Earlier this week, city councilors gave initial approval to an airport spending reduction plan that will eliminate five yet-to-be-named positions, though most are vacant, Caruso said. The plan also reduces marketing spending. After the reduction, the airport's projected FY 15 budget is about $12 million, Caruso said.
"We'll just reduce some of the frequency with which we might put out ads" in some markets, Caruso said, but will continue to have a strong national and international presence.
"What we need to do is continue to look at all our different business segments. We don't want to be so reliant on one business segment as we have in the past," the director said.
He pointed to examples like the expanding international aircraft repair and refurbishment company C&L Aerospace, which is leasing airport facilities. Maine State Police also recently made the move to the airport to set up their Bangor barracks. Caruso also cited Maine Aero Services.
The return of United should give the airport a boost in the right direction while officials continue to determine "what we can do better, more efficiently, effectively," Caruso said.
When United pulled out of Bangor in 1993, the airline cited low passenger turnouts for year-round flights, especially in the winter, but the planes it used then had about double the seating capacity as the regional jets United is using today.
The airline also saw difficult financial times in the early part of that decade, having chopped more than $1.1 billion from its budget in 1992 and the 1st quarter of 1993. That meant abandoning several smaller airports.
About 50 people gathered at Bangor International Airport Thursday to celebrate the return of United. Uno Pizzeria, a chain started in Chicago, catered the event with deep-dish pizzas. Geaghan Bros. Brewing of Bangor and Goose Island of Chicago each brought a craft beer to sample. The airport passed out small sampler glasses etched with the three-letter codes of the Bangor and Chicago airports -- BGR-ORD -- to commemorate the return of the route. A performer sang in the background while city and airport officials mingled with officials from United Airlines and elsewhere.
Caruso said he was thrilled to see a location like Chicago added to Bangor's offerings; not only is it a "great destination city" but a hub that can connect Maine to the western states and Asia.
Jameson Ano, senior manager of United Express operations, said at the event Bangor's airport and city staff's "hard work and petitioning" drew the company back.
Depending on the success of the route, it could be expanded to year-round service or United might consider adding new routes between Bangor and other locations, he said.
"United is always looking for opportunities," Ano added.
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