Cape Air keeps costs low; profits up

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Passengers arrive at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport on Wednesday.

Since 2009, Cape Air has offered the same service to Cape Girardeau area travelers: four flights each weekday and two per day on the weekend -- to or from St. Louis -- for $50. Combining affordable fees with a dependable record, the commuter airline has been a "breath of fresh air" for airport management and has increased its profits every year.

"They are dependable, they are low cost, they are really everything we need for a good service between here and St. Louis," said Bruce Loy, regional airport manager.

The airport had struggled to find a dependable carrier. But things have been different with Cape Air, he said.

"They are just very professional, their customer service has been excellent. They've just been really a breath of fresh air since they started," Loy said.

Cape Air carried about 980 passengers per month on the route between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis during 2012. A total of 11,746 passengers used the airline's Cape Girardeau service last year, said Stacey Putnam Ross, Midwest marketing manager for Cape Air/Nantucket Airlines.

Passengers board a Cape Air flight to St. Louis at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport Wednesday, Jan. 16. (ADAM VOGLER)

Revenue for 2012 was just above $104 million, up from $100 million in 2011, said Andrew Bonney, the airline's vice president for planning.

Based in Hyannis, Mass., Cape Air began local operations in 2009. In 2011 it signed a four-year contract with Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, the longest ever for a service provider there. As part of the contract, the airline is partially funded with federal subsidies.

The annual subsidy rate for Cape Girardeau is $1,469,715 per year, according to Bill Mosley of the U.S. Department of Transportation's public affairs office.

Cape Girardeau is one of 122 communities eligible for funding through the department's Essential Air Service [EAS] program. After industry deregulation in 1978, airlines were free to determine which markets to serve and what fares to charge. The EAS program was put into place to guarantee that at least a minimal level of air service for small communities.

During the past two years, significant reforms were made to the EAS program. President Barack Obama signed the Airport and Airway Extension Act, Part IV in 2011, which prohibits the EAS from funding communities whose annual passenger subsidies already are greater than $1,000 per passenger. The president signed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which capped the communities in the 48 states and Puerto Rico that are eligible to participate in the program, meaning no new communities can qualify to receive EAS funds.

A Cape Air flight to St. Louis prepares to depart from the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport Wednesday, Jan. 16. (ADAM VOGLER)

Beginning this year, existing communities must maintain an average of at least 10 passengers per day, with few exceptions. The EAS program also regulates the maximum number of seats per day a carrier can provide with the funding.

Cape Air uses a fleet of Cessna 402 planes, which accommodate nine passengers apiece. Working within limitations placed on its service by the EAS, the airline is able to schedule more flights per day than it would be able to if it used larger aircraft, Bonney explained.

As the numbers of passengers using the service has risen, the average amount of subsidy per ticket has gone down, he said.

Based on the number of trips taken in 2012, about $125 in subsidies were applied to each one-way ticket.

The most recent change to service was streamlining the process of check-in for passengers once they reach Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Just more than a year ago, Cape Air put into place a shuttle that enables passengers to connect to other airlines without having to recheck bags or be rescreened by security, Ross said. The exception is passengers connecting to Southwest Airlines with checked baggage must be cleared again by security before boarding their flights because Southwest does not have baggage agreements with other carriers, she said.

"We are delighted with how things are going in Cape Girardeau and look forward to continuing to have the numbers increase and are doing the best we can every day to provide safe, reliable, economical service to Southeast Missouri," Bonney said.

Alternative transportation options for travelers going to Lambert airport, other than driving in a private vehicle, are the BART Shuttle and the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority taxi service. The shuttle picks up passengers from most home addresses in Cape Girardeau and many surrounding areas, and provides service directly to the airport for $70 one-way per adult passenger, $60 per additional passenger and $25 per child at the same address.

Messages left with the transit authority requesting rates were not returned Wednesday afternoon.

salderman@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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