Thursday, August 02, 2012

Cape Air trying to branch out


Cape Air intends to add service between Block Island and Providence next summer — with some insurance provided by a federal grant — if all goes according to plan.

The Rhode Island Airport Corp. has submitted an application to the Small Community Air Service Development Program asking for $900,000 in assistance, naming Cape Air as the airline of choice.

Under the proposal, the grant serves as revenue protection for Cape Air, which will take on substantial one-time costs in acquiring planes that can handle the short runway on Block Island.

Andrew Bonney, vice president of planning for Cape Air, said that if the route is profitable, "it won't cost the government a penny."

The new, eight-seat Britten-Norman Islanders would service the route between Providence's T.F. Green Airport and Block Island in the summer, then move to the Caribbean in the winter for a route connecting the island of Culebra with San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Since Block Island is a seasonal market, the airport corporation has partnered with the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. to provide service between San Juan and Culebra, about 17 miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland. Culebra also has a runway that is too short for Cape Air's current fleet of nine-seat Cessna 402s.

The only service available to Block Island right now is out of Westerly, R.I., with New England Airlines, which has submitted a letter of opposition to the grant. There are no connections available from Westerly, and Culebra is similarly hard to get to, Bonney said.

He added that as a mature airline, Cape Air has developed the necessary partnerships to connect these islands to the national air transportation system.

This proposal is one of 61 received by the FAA under the grant program, said FAA spokesman Bill Mosely. There is a cap of $14 million funds to be allocated through the program this year. No more than 40 proposals will be selected, with no more than four proposals in a single state. The Block Island proposal is the only one from Rhode Island.

Mosely said a decision will likely be made within the next month.

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