TRENTON — Elite Airways, which was the first commercial jet service to operate out of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, will not return in 2017.
Airport Manager Brad Madeira said John Pearsall, president of Elite Airways, advised him that the carrier has decided to focus on other markets at this time.
Last year, Elite began offering weekly flights between Bar Harbor (BHB), Portland International Jetport (PWM), and New York City/Newark (EWR) with continuing service to Vero Beach, Fla.
However, last July the carrier dropped the Portland run due to lack of demand but continued with Newark and Vero Beach.
Madeira said he would have liked Elite to have given Bar Harbor one more year of service before making a decision.
The airline didn’t begin its Bar Harbor flights in 2016 until the end of June.
By that point, “people for the most part have already made their travel plans,” Madeira said. This season would have been a “more fair assessment” of the business.
Madeira also said the airline didn’t advertise.
Elite completed 27 round trips during the 2016 season. Those included 659 enplanements. That’s an average of 24 people on each flight, which is a bit less than half of the capacity of the 50-seat jets.
“The reality is they had a lot of days where there were 13,” passengers, Madeira said. “They would need that number to be more like 40 to have it make sense for them.”
“Unfortunately, airlines operate in a competitive marketplace and want to go where they’re going to get the best bang for their buck,” the manager said. “They’re going to go for their maximum revenue potential.”
Hancock County is in a difficult situation due to its size and the trend in the airline industry toward larger planes.
“The air carriers keep going to larger planes,” Madeira said. So, the 50-seater, which the Hancock County market wasn’t filling, is “getting extinct.”
“When Colgan was here operating a 19-seater, it was the right amount of seats for this market,” Madeira said. “Right now, we find Cape Air is great in the winter, but there are still people apprehensive about that size airplane. We’re this in-between market. It’s tough to find the right combination.”
The location is another issue.
“This airport operates an hour from Bangor and it’s a challenge to get people to use this airport,” Madeira said. “We have a lot more options that aren’t just that far away.”
“Elite was a good thing because it finally got us to an alternate destination — to New York and beyond,” he said.
Madeira thinks the loss of Elite will affect the airport’s target of 10,000 annual enplanements.
The airport is eligible for $1 million in entitlement grant funds each year from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) if it hits the 10,000 enplanement target. If the airport falls short of that number, the subsidy falls to $150,000.
Speaking of enplanements, preliminary numbers for 2016 put the airport at 8,417 enplanements. That is “1,583 short of where we want to be,” Madeira said.
However, boarding figures from charter companies don’t close until August 2017.
“We reach out to them and ask them to submit the form to the FAA how many passengers they picked up from the Bar Harbor airport in 2016,” Madeira said.
In 2015, that method brought the airport an additional 1,651 enplanements, which was enough to hit the annual target.