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With new carrier up for contract, Lebanon airport may be changing flights

  • John Nikolovski, station manager with Cape Air, walks onto the tarmac on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in West Lebanon, N.H. The Lebanon Municipal Airport is considering bids from other airlines wanting to serve the Upper Valley. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

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    Cape Air passengers Charlene Anderson, of Barre, Vt., center, and Carol Suich, of White River Junction, Vt., check in with agent Nina Mori before their flight on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in West Lebanon, N.H. They are flying to Boston on the first leg of their trip to Africa. "I love this airport, it gets me there in half an hour, perfect," Suich said. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • John Nikolovski, station manager with Cape Air, prepares for a flight leaving to Boston on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in West Lebanon, N.H. The Lebanon Municipal Airport is considering bids from other airlines wanting to serve the Upper Valley. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 9/17/2022 12:55:38 AM
Modified: 9/17/2022 12:55:09 AM

LEBANON — The City Council is slated to decide next week which air carrier will hold the Essential Air Service contract through the U.S. Department of Transportation at the city’s airport starting on Dec. 1.

Cape Air has held the contract since 2008 and offers flights from Lebanon Municipal Airport to Boston Logan and New York City via White Plains, N.Y., where passengers are provided ground transportation to Penn Station in Manhattan.

For the four quarters ending March 30 of this year, Cape Air had almost 8,400 “enplanements” in Lebanon, according to documents provided to the City Council ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

Now, Southern Airways also has submitted a bid for the contract, and the airport’s review committee has endorsed the new carrier.

If Southern Airways was granted the contract, there would be changes made to the New York service; instead of going to White Plains, flights from Lebanon would arrive into Newark, N.J., twice daily. The service to Boston, which includes four daily flights, would remain the same.

“The committee felt that the proposal by Southern Airways to provide service to Newark expanded access to the National Air Transportation System,” Carl Gross, Lebanon airport’s manager, said in an email, noting that passengers who wish to get to Penn Station could take AirTrain Newark.

Newark would expand opportunities for customers to connect to a range of airlines and destinations — it’s closer to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., for example — while still providing ground transportation to Penn Station.

Westchester County Airport in White Plains saw 1.7 million passengers in 2019, according to its website. Meanwhile, Newark’s airport saw more than 46 million passengers in 2019, according to the most recent annual traffic report provided by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The Essential Air Service contract acts as a subsidy from the U.S. DOT to provide air transportation to rural locations around the country and is designed, in part, to contribute to the local economy.

The current four-year contract that Cape Air has with DOT ranged in value from $3.6 million in the first year, 2018, to $3.9 million this year, according to materials provided to the City Council.

In 2008, when Cape Air first signed its first contract to serve Lebanon, the company made a commitment to become “a local business partner to the Upper Valley, announcing an initial campaign to promote its service from the Upper Valley to Boston, as well as promote local ski destinations and features in its in-flight magazine The View to draw visitors to our area,” David Gobi, then interim airport manager, wrote in a letter to the editor in the Valley News when Cape Air began providing service in Lebanon.

Chris Johnson, a Quechee resident who frequents the New York Cape Air service said, the Cape Air has succeeded in doing just that.

“The fact that the planes are almost always full and if you don’t book it soon enough you can’t get on the flight tells you that whatever they’re doing has worked,” Johnson said. “The market does exist. They have succeeded in doing what the program was designed to do, so I just don’t know why you would fix something that isn’t broken.”

The air service has been helpful for people like Johnson who have relied on the Cape Air over the past 14 years.

Johnson is a partner in a law firm in New York but prefers to spend his spare time at his residence in Quechee, and the Cape Air service has allowed him to do that.

“I lived my whole life in New York,” he said in a phone interview. “I bought a second home in Quechee. Cape Air has allowed me to spend much more time up in the Upper Valley, spend my money there, opposed to in New York.”

On Wednesday, the council is slated to vote on whether to endorse Southern Airways to the DOT. The council’s input is one of several factors that DOT will consider in its decision. The others include reliability; contractual arrangements the applicant has made to ensure service beyond the initial destination from Lebanon; preferences of the service’s users; and the applicant’s marketing plan.

Wednesday’s City Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at City Hall. The agenda states that both Airport Manager Gross and Mark Cesteri from Southern Airways Express will be at the meeting and available to address questions.

Laura Koes can be reached at laurakoesjournalism@gmail.com.


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