TRENTON — Commercial jet service is available for the first time at Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport with the addition of nonstop service by Portland-based Elite Airways.
Starting June 16, Elite Airways will offer flights from Trenton to Portland International Jetport and Newark Liberty International Airport. There will be direct flights from Portland to Vero Beach, Fla. The service will run through Labor Day.
“This is a really big win for the airport and the community,” said Airport Manager Brad Madeira during a press conference Friday.
“Now, Hancock County and Downeast Maine residents will be able to very easily and affordably enjoy long weekend trips to New York or to Vero Beach, Fla., on a seasonal basis and perhaps into the fall and winter if the demand is strong,” Madeira said.
Madeira said he expects a good response.
“We have received very positive feedback so far about the new service and expect that the demand for it will be strong,” Madeira said. “I am hopeful that the combined ridership of Cape Air, PenAir and Elite Airways will get the annual airport boardings over 10,000, which is the number needed in order to secure an additional $850,000 in federal airport improvement project entitlements every year.”
Enplanements are up 33 percent for the first quarter of 2016 – which Madeira attributes to the mild winter. There were 1,123 boardings from January to March 2016.
Madeira said airport tenants are reporting “very strong advance bookings, all of which indicated that we are going to have a very good year.”
The airport has lost $1.7 million in federal entitlement funds since failing to hit its enplanement target for the past two years — 2014 and 2015.
Elite Airways President John Pearsall spoke briefly during the press conference.
Elite is primarily a “sports charter operation,” Pearsall said. “What we’re trying to do now is give Mainers more of a choice. We’re really honored to bring the service to Bar Harbor.”
Elite was founded in 2006 by a group of former airline executives who wanted to improve travel experience, said spokesman Rebecca Crisafulli. It began operating in 2012.
The company slogan is “Love to Fly Again.”
There is no fee to change flights, Pearsall said. The airline offers complimentary snacks and soft drinks. Passengers may check one bag for free.
“We’re very pet-friendly,” Pearsall said. “We’ve allowed large pets onboard with certain conditions.”
“The pricing is very reasonable for jet service,” Pearsall said.
Direct flights to Portland start at $79 and take 23 minutes. Madeira said bus tickets to Portland are $49. Direct flights to Newark start at $99.
Flights also are available from Portland to Vero Beach, Fla.
“It’s super easy to get to Manhattan,” Pearsall said. Once you land at Newark Liberty International Airport, there’s a short walk to car rental kiosks. Or take an AirTrain to a commuter train to reach New York Penn Station, Pearsall said.
Pearsall said the company would evaluate the possibility of continuing the service year-round once it sees the demand.
Pearsall and other Elite staff flew to Trenton Friday on a Bombardier CRJ-200 50-seat jet.
Elite’s fleet includes seven 50-seat jets. The fleet also has four Bombardier CRJ-700 jets, which seat 70.
The company has 150 employees. While Elite is based in Portland, its maintenance operation is in Melbourne, Fla.
Pearsall said many of Elite’s senior captains are former Delta/ComAir pilots.
Pearsall has over 30 years of aviation experience. He was previously president and chief operating officer at Primaris Airlines and was instrumental in the startup of three airlines.
To make reservations, see wwww.eliteairways.com.
In related news, the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Federal Aviation Administration intends to award a $425,000 grant to the airport. That’s part of a total $1,193,098 in funding for seven Maine airports.
Madeira said the funds would be used for airport improvement projects such as replacing lighted airfield signs.