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10,000 Riders Needed for $1M: Lebanon Airport Again Cuts Flight Fares for Federal Funds

  • Passengers and rental car agents react to the clinching play in the Patriots, Browns game while waiting for a delayed flight at the Lebanon Airtport in West Lebaon Sunday, December 8, 2013. The Lebanon Airport is getting help meeting its required 10,000 outbound passengers to receive federal funding from Cape Air which is temporarily cutting its fares.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Passengers and rental car agents react to the clinching play in the Patriots, Browns game while waiting for a delayed flight at the Lebanon Airtport in West Lebaon Sunday, December 8, 2013. The Lebanon Airport is getting help meeting its required 10,000 outbound passengers to receive federal funding from Cape Air which is temporarily cutting its fares.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Maribeth D'Antuono of Cape Air prepares to send off a flight to Boston on the tarmac at the Lebanon Airport Sunday, December 8, 2013. The regional airline is offering reduced fares to help Lebanon meet its requirements for federal funding. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Maribeth D'Antuono of Cape Air prepares to send off a flight to Boston on the tarmac at the Lebanon Airport Sunday, December 8, 2013. The regional airline is offering reduced fares to help Lebanon meet its requirements for federal funding.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Trevor Law of Vershire checks his boarding pass before his flight to Boston at the Lebanon Airport Sunday, December 8, 2013. Law flies from Lebanon to Baltimore via Boston every couple weeks for work.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Trevor Law of Vershire checks his boarding pass before his flight to Boston at the Lebanon Airport Sunday, December 8, 2013. Law flies from Lebanon to Baltimore via Boston every couple weeks for work.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Passengers and rental car agents react to the clinching play in the Patriots, Browns game while waiting for a delayed flight at the Lebanon Airtport in West Lebaon Sunday, December 8, 2013. The Lebanon Airport is getting help meeting its required 10,000 outbound passengers to receive federal funding from Cape Air which is temporarily cutting its fares.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Maribeth D'Antuono of Cape Air prepares to send off a flight to Boston on the tarmac at the Lebanon Airport Sunday, December 8, 2013. The regional airline is offering reduced fares to help Lebanon meet its requirements for federal funding. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Trevor Law of Vershire checks his boarding pass before his flight to Boston at the Lebanon Airport Sunday, December 8, 2013. Law flies from Lebanon to Baltimore via Boston every couple weeks for work.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Lebanon — The Lebanon Municipal Airport’s sole commercial airline has slashed its fares for the second consecutive year to secure $1 million in federal funding, but airport officials hope it won’t become an annual holiday tradition.

This year, the privately-owned regional airline Cape Air cut its fares to $49 for a one-way trip to Boston and $99 to New York earlier in the fall in an effort to reach 10,000 outbound passengers by the end of the year, a milestone that would trigger $1 million in Federal Aviation Administration funding for the airport, as opposed to the $150,000 it would be entitled to if it failed to reach the mark.

The money comes from the Airport Improvement Program and is used for projects such as airfield work, lighting, and runway resurfacing. Last year, the airline slashed fares to $12 to both cities in the final two weeks of December to reach the goal.

Airport Manager Rick Dyment said he’s “very confident” the airport will reach 10,000 outbound passengers by the end of December.

As of Dec. 1, the total stood at 9,436, slightly ahead of where it was on that date last year. That means less than 570 passengers need to leave the airport this month to lock in the money. Dyment said the airport has flown out more passengers than that in every December since 2008, when Cape Air first launched service in and out of Lebanon.

“I’m convinced we’ll make it this year,” Dyment said, adding that the number of passengers on commercial flights out of Lebanon has been trending upward since 2009.

Trish Lorino, managing director of marketing and public relations for Cape Air, said the airline set a record for outbound passengers in October of 1,055.

But she said not to expect $12 fares this year, because the number of passengers has been “strong.”

Cape Air’s rate discount has drawn criticism from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. as the airline relies on the controversial Essential Air Service subsidy, which has been under a consistent threat from members of Congress, most recently from the House over the summer. The subsidy was initially designed as a limited 10-year initiative to help rural airports in 1978, but grew into a life of its own as Congress approved additional funding.

Cape Air, which is based in Hyannis, Mass., and operates a fleet of more than 75 airplanes, receives $2.3 million annually to fly out of Lebanon, the only New Hampshire airport under the subsidy the program. In Vermont, Cape Air receives $1.3 million to fly out of Rutland.

Lorino declined say whether the Lebanon is a profitable operation for the airline, or whether Cape Air would even serve the city without help from the federal program.

“I’ll leave it that we have been a profitable company over the last five years and we’ve been serving Lebanon since 2008,” she said.

Cape Air flies to Boston four times a day and to White Plains, N.Y. twice daily. The airline specializes in “short haul flights” and fields 500 flights daily during peak season to some 42 destinations. It has 233 pilots, nine of which use Lebanon’s airport.

Lorino said the airline has no “solid” plans to expand its service out of Lebanon, “but we’re always looking at opportunities.”

Dyment said that Lebanon’s peak for air travel was in 1993, when three commercial airlines served the airport and saw 48,000 outbound passengers.

Over the following 10 years, however, air traffic declined steadily, a decrease Dyment attributed to industry-wide trends but also to local competition from growing airports in Manchester and Burlington.

“They’re our main competition,” said Dyment. “So as they increased, we decreased.”

Dyment said that total operations — take-offs and landings — at the airport averaged between 60,000 and 65,000 from 2003 to 2007, and then started to tail off, a dynamic he blames on the weak economy.

In 2011, there were 34,400 take-offs and landings at the airport.

That number ticked up by 100 last year.

The airport is intended to be self-sustaining from user fees, but it has been running a deficit and has relied on subsidies from local taxpayers over the last several years. In the 2012 budget, the city transferred about $198,500 from the property tax-supported General Fund to the airport fund.

The city transferred $215,500 from the current year’s budget, and is proposing to transfer $169,500 in the 2014 budget.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

CORRECTION

Cape Air has reduced its one-way fares to $49 between Lebanon and Boston and $99 between Lebanon and New York in a bid to reach 10,000 outbound passengers this year. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the fares.

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