December 26, 2013

Augusta-Boston airline picks up award from business group

With federal help, Cape Air provides plane service in the capital city, which business leaders deem a necessity for the region.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Working in the country’s third-smallest capital city, John Butera, Gov. Paul LePage’s economic adviser and chief business attracter, has unique geographical challenges.

Chamber Honors: Cape Air, the Massachusetts-based company that has provided commercial flights to Augusta since 2010, flies to Boston four times a day in the summer and three times a day during the winter. Cape Air will receive the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s President’s Award at the chamber’s annual banquet in January.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

But he said the Augusta State Airport, a little more than a mile uphill from the State House, blunts some obstacles, helping those looking to meet with him about doing business in Maine get to the region efficiently.

“It’s important to the state and the region, absolutely,” Butera said.

Cape Air, the Massachusetts-based company that has provided commercial flights to Augusta since 2010, flies to Boston four times a day in the summer and three times a day during the winter.

The company has a sales office in downtown Augusta, employing 18 in the city and 50 in Maine, including those in Rockland and Bar Harbor. It will receive the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s President’s Award at the chamber’s annual banquet on Jan. 24 at the Augusta Civic Center. The Kennebec Journal is a member of the chamber.

“For economic development, when you think of businesses that want to participate in the greater community, the issue is, ‘How do you get there from here?’ ” said Peter Thompson, president and CEO of the regional chamber. “They can get you here from there.”

In 2012, Cape Air spokeswoman Trish Lorino said the company flew nearly 9,300 passengers between Augusta and Boston. She said this year, that’s up 13 percent to more than 10,000.

In Maine, as in many rural states, air travel is heavily subsidized by the federal government as part of the deregulation of airlines in 1978, in order to retain air service in remote areas where it wouldn’t be profitable to exist in a free market.

To fly the Augusta-Boston route, Cape Air gets approximately $1.4 million annually from the federal government, a rate it’s guaranteed through next October. As of this October, the subsidy equaled $121 per passenger, Lorino said.

It gets similar subsides at 14 other airports in the country, including in Bar Harbor and Rockland, from where they also fly routes to Boston, where Logan International Airport, a Cape Air hub, offers connectivity with much of the world.

“The routes north of Boston are great for us,” she said. “The connectivity in Boston is so great.”

Cape Air was founded in 1989 by pilot Dan Wolf, who started the company with a single route that he flew from Provincetown to Boston. Now, Lorino said it has 1,100 employees and flies routes in 10 states as far west as Montana, plus islands in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.

Wolf, now the CEO of Cape Air, is a Democratic state senator in Massachusetts. Earlier this year, he announced a gubernatorial bid but ended it after the state’s ethics commission ruled he had a conflict of interest because of the company’s contracts with the state-operated Logan Airport.

Lorino said the company is community-oriented and committed to the region, having given $10,000 to nonprofits in 2012, including the Kiwanis Club and the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.

In return, the company is well-received: Thompson said many business customers have spoken well of the flights they’ve taken,

“It’s kind of like a lifeline to many people in the communities,” Lorino said. “It’s crucial not only for businesses, but for personal reasons as well.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652mshepherd@centralmaine.comTwitter: @mikeshepherdme

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