LEBANON — The City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to recommend extending Cape Air’s Essential Air Service contract at Lebanon Municipal Airport.
After hearing public testimony and reviewing information about competing proposals from Cape Air, the current Massachusetts-headquartered carrier, and Southern Airways Express, a Florida-based airline that offers commuter services in several regions in the United States, Councilman George Sykes decided to do so The city’s current air carrier said in a recording of Wednesday night’s council meeting that councilors “have heard no comments from the public and our constituents in favor of change.”
Cape Air has held the contract, which is not awarded by the city but by the US Department of Transportation, since 2008. Cape offers flights from Lebanon Airport to Boston Logan and New York City via White Plains, NY, where passengers are transported on the ground become Penn Station in Manhattan.
Southern Air’s competing proposal included the same service to Boston, but instead of White Plains it would have taken passengers to Newark (NJ) Liberty International, a busier hub than White Plains.
Richard Adler of Warren, NH, was one of 13 Upper Valley residents who spoke in favor of Cape Air before the council.
“The beauty of the Lebanese airport is that it is a small airport; The beauty of White Plains is that it’s a small airport,” Adler said. “If you need connectivity, you have Boston. If you’re going to New York or anywhere in the area, you want convenience.”
He argued that Newark’s size was neither attractive nor helpful to those currently using Cape Air’s service to White Plains.
He urged the council to consider the consumer, who he described as “the Upper Valley resident who wants to get in and out of town quickly and easily.”
In sticking with Cape Air, the council rejected a recommendation from an airport committee formed to consider the two airlines’ competing proposals.
The committee had concluded that Southern Airways would offer opportunities to fly to a greater number of destinations and also argued that the airline’s planes would have more cargo space for items such as skis and golf clubs, which would help promote tourism, that’s what the Essential Air Service part is designed for. Essential Air Service is a federal program designed to provide rural areas of the United States with 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 he had received positive feedback on Cape Air, but that “there were many comments that while Cape Air provides excellent ground service to Westchester (County Airport in White Plains), it still wasn’t as convenient as flying to a hub airport like Newark.”
During the council discussion, after hearing from current users of Cape Air’s service that switching airlines could discourage business from the Lebanese airport, Council member Karen Liot Hill said: “I think there are too many risks involved in switching at this time .”
The council then voted unanimously to recommend Cape Air for the Essential Air Service contract.
If the DOT follows the city’s recommendation, the contract with Cape Air would run for another four years starting December 1. The DOT considers the city’s recommendation as part of five criteria for the contract, including reliability, service with major airlines, interline arrangements for transportation, customer preferences, and a marketing plan.
The final decision will be made by the DOT before November 30th.
Laura Koes can be reached at [email protected]