The Hancock County airport needs more travelers to make use of the commercial carriers that serve the Trenton facility. A minimum of 10,000 boardings a year are needed to qualify the airport for $1 million in annual federal funding. FILE PHOTO

County airport needs more passengers



TRENTON — Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport has lost $2 million in federal entitlement funds since failing to hit a 10,000-passenger enplanement target for the past two years.

If the airport hits the annual target, it receives Federal Aviation Administration funding, $1 million a year, for capital improvement projects.

An enplanement refers to a passenger boarding a plane.

During 2015, the airport had 7,928 enplanements, according to Airport Manager Brad Madeira. During 2014, the airport counted 8,501 enplanements.

“I believe that the decrease is due to a very harsh winter last year that badly hurt 1Q (first quarter) numbers,” Madeira said in an email.

The airport has two carriers, Cape Air, based in Hyannis, Mass., and PenAir, based in Alaska, which are contracted to provide passenger service.

Madeira said PenAir’s 2015 summer schedule also contributed to the decline.

“…PenAir’s…schedule last summer did not have an overnight flight (early departure and late arrival) and therefore connection options were limited for summer travelers,” Madeira said.

GRAPHIC BY TIM SUELLENTROP - REACH MAINE MARKETING

GRAPHIC BY TIM SUELLENTROP – REACH MAINE MARKETING

Fewer enplanements means reduced federal funding — the airport will receive $150,000 instead of $1 million.

“Unless we can get the passenger boardings up above 10,000 again, we will continue to only be eligible to receive $150,000 in federal entitlement funds each year,” Madeira said. “If we can get the number back over 10,000 then we will be eligible to receive $1 million a year again.”

Hitting the magic 10,000 number has not been easy in recent memory.

In early December of 2005, the airport was 20 enplanements short of reaching its target. Former airport manager Bob Cossette pleaded with area residents flying to Boston to do so from Trenton. Cossette’s plea worked. The airport ended 2005 with 10,036 paid passengers.

Former County Commissioner Ken Shea had said then that it had been difficult for the airport to maintain its 10,000-passenger threshold since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Madeira is hopeful that bringing back PenAir’s “late in/early out schedule” will help the airport reach its goal.

The airport manager said in 2013, the airport was able to accrue just over 10,000 boardings with that schedule.

“We are hopeful that if PenAir is reselected to provide seasonal service here, that they will consider a similar schedule.”

However, the county commissioners also hired a firm in July 2015 to draft an Airport Marketing Plan with a goal of increasing enplanements.

The county contracted with Sixel Consulting Group, which is located in Eugene, Ore.

“Hopefully that will increase enplanements,” said Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown. “It’s been steadily dropping over the past few years I don’t know why. People think they need to go to Bangor. Maybe they think they can make better connections, I don’t know.”

The county paid Sixel a retainer fee of $5,900. Madeira said the airport has budgeted $10,000 for marketing in 2016.

Incidentally, Brown confirmed that the airport is entirely self-funded. The airport wasn’t always self-funded, but it is now, Brown said.

User fees from ticket sales and revenues generated from businesses, such as Columbia Air Services, Morris Yachts and Enterprise, in addition to Hertz Rent-A-Car, make up the operating budget.

In addition to marketing, Madeira said Sixel will help the airport with the 2016 USDOT Essential Air Service reselection process, which is currently under way.

The Essential Air Service was put into place to guarantee that small communities served before The Airline Deregulation Act passed in 1978 continue to be served, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The USDOT accomplishes this by subsidizing two to four round-trips a day with a 19-seat aircraft flying to a major airport.

Madeira said the DOT makes the official selection of any air carrier at the airport, but it does consider community input.

“The county commissioners will have an opportunity to provide feedback to the USDOT if multiple air carriers submit proposals to provide service here,” Madeira said. Proposals were due Tuesday and Madeira estimated that the final selection would be made within 45 days.

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained errors. Colgan Air no longer operates out of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport. The article also should have stated revenue is generated from Columbia Air Services, Morris Yachts and Enterprise, in addition to Hertz Rent-A-Car.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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