Saturday, December 2, 2017

White Plains flights planned via Cape Air: Town renews contract as airline vows to improve



SARANAC LAKE — Beginning March 1, 2018, passengers boarding planes at the Adirondack Regional Airport will be able to disembark in White Plains. Their tickets will include shuttle service to Midtown Manhattan.

A one-way ticket to White Plains will cost around $95, and the flight will take 1 hour, 29 minutes, according to a Cape Air spokesperson.

Although final approval from the federal Department of Transportation is needed for the White Plains flights, the new contract was approved Thursday night by the Harrietstown town board. Airport Manager Corey Hurwitch said the DOT “wants people to be happy” and he predicted the DOT would allow the change.

However, community support is important, so town Supervisor Mike Kilroy will draft a letter to the DOT in favor of the White Plains flights and renewal of Cape Air’s contract.

Contract renewal

– The town owns the Lake Clear airport and is responsible for approving service contracts with the airlines. For 10 years, the airline has been Cape Air; the town has approved a two-year contract and two four-year contracts.

Another carrier, Boutique Air, had submitted a bid for the contract. At Thursday night’s town board meeting, Cape Air personnel showed up to discuss their service. Two steady customers of Cape Air gave positive testimonials during the public comments section of the meeting.

In previous board meetings, council members and Hurwitch said there has been a decline in service at Cape Air.

Dan Wolf, Cape Air’s founder and CEO, made it clear that the company knows there have been problems and is committed to setting them right.

“Mea culpa,” said Wolf. “We can do it again, and do it right this time.”

Wolf said major construction at Logan Airport in Boston, Cape Air’s connecting hub, has affected every airline there this year, but affects small companies such as Cape Air differently. When a flight is canceled, said Wolf, it leads to “rolling delays,” which means the flights are pushed back. Big airlines like United can keep delaying flights late into the evening, whereas Cape Air stops flying at 8 p.m.

“With the pilot shortage we don’t have enough pilots,” said Wolf. “The rolling delays really hampered our summer.”

Wolf said the Cape Air website had a banner to warn customers about the risk of cancellations, but town Councilman Ron Keough said that wasn’t enough. Keough said his constituents have complained.

“Are you shipping animals? Or people?” he asked. “People are unreliable. They don’t check the website. They don’t check their phones.”

Wolf apologized again and said the airline is committed to improving service.

“You could have communicated better,” said Keough. “We’re only just finding out about this Logan construction now.”

Another issue brought up at previous town board meetings was that the Cape Air planes are getting old. Boutique, in its bid, noted that its fleet is new.

Wolf said Cape Air uses only twin-engine planes: “I am a believer that the type of flying we’re doing here should be done with two engines. We have lost bids to companies with single-engine planes — just recently, in Massena — but it’s not as safe. Single-engine flight doesn’t require as stringent pilot certifications.”

Cape Air has new twin-engine planes on order. The new planes will begin coming out of production in 2019, said Wolf.

“I can’t wait to stop operating a 35-year-old airplane,” said Wolf, who has renewed his pilot’s license for a 40th year of flying. “But, the right plane hasn’t been there.”

In response to a question from the board, Wolf said it will take about eight years to turn over the fleet.

Cape Air asked for a four-year contract renewal rather than a two-year because the capital investment in the new planes has better security with the four-year contract.

White Plains, once a day

Several town board members said people have been requesting a flight to White Plains. The airport service there will include a shuttle service to Midtown Manhattan, with an approximate time of 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on traffic.

Kilroy asked whether flying into LaGuardia or John F. Kennedy, the two New York City airports, was an option.

“We’re getting people to Midtown significantly faster than they are,” said Andrew Bonney, Cape Air’s senior vice president of planning.

Cape Air personnel cautioned that one flight a day may not get the results customers want. The flight will go out at mid-day, leaving the morning and evening flights to Boston intact.

“Having one flight a day to a destination is really hard,” said Bonney. If connecting flights don’t sync with the flight time that can mean a day’s layover.

Adirondack Regional, located in Lake Clear, is subsidized by the federal Essential Air Service program, which supports air service to remote population centers. When EAS began in 1978, Adirondack Regional Airport was allocated three flights a day. That number is “set in stone,” said Bonney.

Cape Air could fly more flights a day if they wanted to pay for the extra flights themselves. Although they’ve done this in the past, the pilot shortage would make it more difficult now.

Hurwitch said he can ask the Department of Transportation for more flights, but “I know what they’ll say: You’re lucky to get the three subsidized.”

Bonney said 117 cities have EAS and “every single one” would like to add more flights.

Keough asked about the lobbying the federal government to increase the number of flights EAS would support.

“That’s in the political realm,” Bonney said.

The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal would eliminate EAS altogether. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has made a point of trying to save EAS and visited Adirondack Regional Airport in August to show support. 

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