Lebanon City Council recommends staying the course on airport service with Cape Air

BY LAURA KOES

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 09-23-2022 1:46 AM

LEBANON — The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend renewing Cape Air’s Essential Air Service contract at Lebanon Municipal Airport.

After hearing public testimony and reviewing information on competing proposals from Cape Air, the current provider headquartered in Massachusetts, and Southern Airways Express, a Florida-based carrier that provides commuter service in several regions around the U.S., City Councilor George Sykes moved to recommend the city’s current air carrier, saying in a recording of the Wednesday night council meeting that councilors “have heard no comments from the public and our constituents in favor of changing.”

Cape Air has held the contract, which is awarded not by the city but by the U.S. Department of Transportation, since 2008. Cape offers flights from Lebanon airport to Boston Logan and New York City via White Plains, N.Y., where passengers are provided ground transportation to Penn Station in Manhattan.

Southern Air’s competing proposal included the same service to Boston, but instead of White Plains would have brought passengers to Newark (N.J.) Liberty International, a busier hub than White Plains.

Richard Adler, of Warren, N.H., was one of 13 Upper Valley residents who spoke before the council in favor of Cape Air.

“The beauty of the Lebanon airport is that it is a small airport; the beauty of White Plains is that it is a small airport,” Adler said. “If you need connectivity, you have Boston. If you want to get to New York or anywhere in that area, you want convenience.”

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He argued that the size of Newark is not appealing or helpful to those currently using the Cape Air service to White Plains.

He urged the council to consider the consumer, which he described as “the Upper Valley resident who’s looking to get in and out of the city quickly and easily.”

In sticking with Cape Air, the council rejected a recommendation from an airport committee that had been formed to weigh the two air carriers’ competing proposals.

The committee had concluded that Southern Airways would provide opportunities to connect to more numbers of destinations and also argued that the carrier’s aircraft would have more cargo space for items like skis and golf clubs, which would help promote tourism, part of what the Essential Air Service is designed to do. Essential Air Service is a federal program designed to ensure rural areas in the U.S. have access to air transportation, in part to support local economies.

Tracy Hutchins, executive director of the Upper Valley Business Alliance, sat on the airport committee and told the City Council on Wednesday that it had received positive feedback on Cape Air but that “there were many comments that although Cape Air was providing excellent ground service flying into Westchester (County Airport in White Plains), it still was not as convenient as flying into a hub airport like Newark.”

During the council’s discussion, after hearing from current users of Cape Air’s service that switching carriers could deter business from the Lebanon airport, Councilor Karen Liot Hill said, “I think changing at this time presents too many risks.”

The council then voted unanimously to recommend Cape Air for the Essential Air Service contract.

Should the DOT take the city’s recommendation, the contract with Cape Air would run for another four years starting Dec. 1. The DOT takes into consideration the city’s recommendation as part of five criteria for the contract, which include reliability, service with larger carriers, interline agreements for transport, customer preference and a marketing plan.

The final decision will be made by the DOT prior to Nov. 30.

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

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