TRENTON — The COVID-19 pandemic has been a struggle for many industries, not the least of which is air travel.
Locally, the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport is falling short of its target 10,000 enplanements, according to Airport Manager Leroy Muise. Enplanements refers to the number of passengers boarding aircraft.
“The unofficial number so far is 8,770 passengers for 2021,” Muise said. “This puts BHB 1,230 passengers short of the mark we need to reach the 10,000 mark. We are hoping things will be better as we come out of the pandemic.”
What’s so special about 10,000 enplanements?
The Trenton airport is considered a rural airport and thus is entitled to Essential Air Service program funding through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Through the federal Essential Air Service program, rural airports that can count 10,000 enplanements in a year receive $1 million in subsidy from the FAA, according to Muise. But those that fall short of 10,000 enplanements receive $150,000.
However, the airport did meet its target for 2019. That year, the airport had 10,088 enplanements.
“This worked out very well, as the FAA funding for the last few years has been working from the 2019 numbers,” the manager said.
But the onset of the pandemic in March of 2020 and the ensuing travel shutdown resulted in total enplanements for 2020 of 2,614, according to Muise.
“With the 2021 numbers looking the way they are, this will set the funding back to $150,000 for the 2023 FAA airport improvement funds,” he said.
However, Muise said the airport did receive two federal grants to help offset the loss in revenue. It received $1,003,427 in funding from the Airport Coronavirus Relief Grant Program and an Airport Rescue Grant totaling $1,049,720.
“Both grants have restrictions on what they can be used for,” the manager said. “Such purposes can include the reimbursement of an airport’s operational expenses or debt service payments in accordance with the limitations prescribed in the act. One of the limitations is, ‘new airport development projects not directly related to combating the spread of pathogens’ may not be funded with this grant.’”
The airport features commercial carrier Cape Air, which offers year-round non-stop service between Trenton and Boston. Cape Air partners with Jet Blue.
Hertz and Enterprise operate car rentals in the airport terminal, according to the airport’s website.