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Cape Air's passenger load hits 1,000 a month as company reaches 1-year milestone
It's late Friday afternoon, and Charlie Kruse is ready to be home.
The president of the Missouri Farm Bureau has been in Washington, D.C., for several days for business meetings. If he had flown from D.C. into St. Louis, he'd still be stuck in rush-hour traffic, facing a 130-mile drive to his Dexter home.
Instead, he's hopping off a 50-minute flight from St. Louis to the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, where his wife is waiting to pick him up, just a 45-minute drive ahead of them.
"It's great that Cape Girardeau has an airline, and I know that hasn't always been the case," Kruse said Friday after getting off the eight-passenger Cessna 402. "It makes it so much more convenient for me. I'm thankful they're here."
He's not the only one.
Cape Air is celebrating its one-year anniversary today, settling into the commuter airline spot at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport that has gone through its share of turbulence over the last decade. Since 2000, the airport saw four carriers pass through until Cape Air's first local flight Nov. 8, 2009.
The previous carriers -- American Connection, RegionsAir, Big Sky and Great Lakes -- lasted anywhere from a few months to a few years. Some saw varying degrees of success, and others, like Big Sky, had problems with flight cancellations and building a trusting customer base.
Cape Air, a Hyannis, Mass.-based carrier, meanwhile saw its passenger load reach almost 1,000 last month and aborted fewer than 1 percent of its take-offs in its first year, with 1,211 completed flights and only 11 canceled flights, mostly due to minor technical problems or insufficient passenger loads.
"We've been delighted to serve Cape Girardeau," said Andrew Bonney, Cape Air's vice president of planning. "We endeavor to provide reliability, and our customers seem to be responding to that."
Cape Air carried 8,142 passengers in its first year of service, according to reports from the U.S. Department of Transportation. That's more than seven times the number of commercial passengers that flew out of the Cape Girardeau airport in 2009, when 1,145 passengers flew with Great Lakes.
Bonney pointed to the combination of low fares, $49 for a flight to St. Louis, and four round-trip flights each weekday as reasons Cape Air's service is attractive to passengers.
Over the last 12 months, Cape Air has seen a steady increase, culminating in almost 1,000 in October. That news comes at a resurgence of sorts in the U.S. airline industry. During the quarter ended Sept. 30, the industry reversed deep losses from a year earlier to achieve a banner performance.
Airport manager Bruce Loy said having a steady, reliable carrier has made his life easier.
"I can heave a sigh of relief, finally," he said. "There were times, with some of the other carriers, it could be embarrassing."
Those carriers had a problem with canceling flights: Regions canceled about 12 percent of the time, Big Sky did it 40 percent of the time and Great Lakes canceled flights 32 percent of the time, according to an airport report.
"If somebody comes to the airport and knows there's a 40 percent chance their flight isn't leaving, they'll stop coming," Loy said. "They'll lose faith."
Cape Air began as a commuter airline operating between Boston and islands off Cape Cod. It arrived in Cape Girardeau last year with promises it would revive the commercial passenger service at the airport, and Loy said it has. The company won federal Essential Air Service subsidy contracts for Cape Girardeau as well as Quincy, Ill., and Williamson County Regional Airport near Marion, Ill., taking over from Great Lakes.
While other carriers have lasted longer, Loy doesn't see any reason why the relationship between Cape Air and the airport can't continue.
"Anyone will tell you their service is good," Loy said. "They're reliable, and they have contracts in other markets. As long as the passengers keep showing up, I think we'll have a good partnership for the foreseeable future."
The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that contracts be renewed every two years, and Bonney said Cape Air has every intention of renewing its contract. There has even been talk of expansion, he said, including adding more flights.
"We don't see any reason why this relationship can't continue for a long time," Bonney said.
Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO