Two carriers pitch their plans to airport board

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Round three of the Cape Girardeau Airport Advisory Board's search for a new commercial passenger carrier took place Wednesday evening, a marathon session lasting more than three hours to hear pitches from two airlines.

The offerings came from two carriers flying similar-sized airplanes from the same manufacturer. But the differences are more striking, with one company, Cape Air of Hyannis, Mass., presenting itself as an established airline ready to enter new markets, and Air Choice One of Farmington, Mo., offering itself as the company with nearby headquarters trying to expand a new business.

In all, five carriers are asking for Cape Girardeau's business. They want the federally subsidized Essential Air Service contract that supports passenger service in smaller cities. The nine-member board plans to make a recommendation next week. The Cape Girardeau City Council must ratify the choice as a formal recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The recommendation is due Sept. 16. Cape Girardeau's contract is being offered along with five other small Midwest cities, and the Department of Transportation can award the contracts all to one carrier or split the work between operators.

Cape Air built its business in the northeastern United States, flying nine-seat Cessna 402s. Andrew Bonney, vice president of planning for the airline, said his company owns 57 aircraft and will be ready to begin flying four round trips per day to St. Louis beginning Nov. 1.

Cape Girardeau's passenger air service has averaged about two passengers a day this year. Bonney said his company will use low fares -- averaging $48 each way -- to rebuild the business.

"It is a mountain to climb, but we've done it," Bonney said.

Air Choice One would fly more modern Cessna Caravans. It hopes to begin service within 60 days of being told it has the contract, said Bill Mishk, an airline consultant who made the presentation.

It intends to reach agreements with major carriers and get its schedule included on booking services, Mishk said. Air Choice One currently flies on only one regularly scheduled route, from Kirksville, Mo., to St. Louis, using a seven-seat Cessna aircraft.

Air Choice One wants to fly twice daily to Memphis, Tenn., and twice daily to St. Louis. It has also offered to send all four flights to one city or the other. Fares to St. Louis would average $65 each way, with the price to Memphis averaging $85.

By flying to both cities, Mishk said, Cape Girardeau passengers will have more options, including the choice of 150 nonstop destinations compared to just 70 flying from St. Louis or 80 flying from Memphis.

The main question, Mishk said, is how to increase boardings. He said Air Choice One has "a proposal that is creative and practical to help you all do that."

Board members said repeatedly during the meeting that they are under the gun to make the right choice. Chairman Robbie Rollins said he wants to pick one destination, make sure the flights meet the public's schedule with sensible, low fares.

"Personally, I think we need to stick with one and work it very hard," he said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO

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