CLARENDON — Cape Air will continue to serve passengers at the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport after being chosen to receive a federal subsidy.
The state airport gets federal funding from the Essential Air Service (EAS) program to run passenger flights. The program is designed to spur passenger flights in rural areas where they would otherwise be unavailable. Every few years the airport must solicit bids to provide that service. Until the last round of bidding, Cape Air was the only interested party but recently has been seeing competition from a San Francisco-based company called Boutique Air.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it has awarded the current bid to Cape Air, which will receive $1,702,873, this year, and $1,753,960 next year, in Essential Air Service subsidies. Local entities reviewed the bids and made a recommendation to the department at the end of May.
Cape Air’s was the lower bid, costing $3,456,833 over the two-year period. Boutique’s would have cost $4,033,087.
Cape Air’s bid for this new run is slightly higher than the last. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s order, the Cape Air subsidy contract for the most recent term, which ends in October, was for a total of $3,328,035, an increase of $128,798.
Cape Air offers three flights per day to Boston Logan International Airport. It uses Cessna 402 airplanes which seat nine passengers but plans to roll out the new Tecnam D2012 Traveler to serve the Rutland area later this year.
Regional Director for Cape Air, Kelly Collopy, said Thursday that the Tecnam’s seat nine as well but are more luxurious and can carry two crewmembers. She spoke at a meeting of the Rutland Regional Transportation Council, which is part of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.
According to the transportation department’s order, JetBlue supported Cape Air’s bid, saying it would help riders access JetBlue’s 71 destinations from the Logan Airport.
Boutique Air’s bid was supported by Joe Flynn, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. According to the federal department, Flynn wrote a letter to it that reads,
“(AOT) feels that the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft that Boutique Air is proposing is a tested and reliable aircraft. We think that this aircraft has advantages over the Cape Air proposed aircraft as it has a pressurized cabin and has an enclosed lavatory from which our Vermont passengers will benefit. (AOT) also feels that the fact that Boutique Air will fly with a two-pilot crew is an enormous safety advantage over the Cape Air single pilot crew.”
While Cape Air had less community support, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were other factors to consider.
“Although Cape Air does not meet the community support factor, the Department is mindful of its fiduciary responsibilities and needs to consider here the relative subsidy requirements of the two proposals,” read the order. “Given the significant cost increase of Boutique Air’s proposal over Cape Air’s proposal, the Department is unable to justify such an increase in spending when Cape Air has served Rutland reliably for almost 12 years.”
Rutland City Mayor David Allaire also supported Boutique Air’s bid, according to the order.
While the AOT wanted another carrier, the U.S. Department of Transportation noted, “During the course of Rutland’s current EAS term, no information has come to the Department’s attention that the community was unhappy with Cape Air’s service or that Cape Air was not meeting the community’s EAS. The Department instructs Cape Air to work with the community to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Flynn’s letter did have some impact, though. The Department of Transportation could have awarded the EAS contract for four years, but opted for two. Its reasons being: “Regarding the reselection of Cape Air for a two-year term over a four-year term, the Department has decided to award the contract for a two-year period since Cape Air did not secure the support of the community. Thus, the Department reselects Cape Air to continue to provide EAS at Rutland for the next two years.”