Cape Air will be around for another four years and just about everyone in eastern Montana is happy about it.
“We’re ecstatic that Cape Air got (the contract) again,” said Shane Ketterling, assistant director of the Billings Logan International Airport.
The federally subsidized Essential Air Service contract is awarded to air carriers servicing rural parts of the country where air travel without the subsidy would be prohibitively expensive.
Cape Air, of Hyannis, Massachusetts, was awarded the contract last month for a third time, meaning the carrier has now provided essential air service to Eastern Montana longer than the two carriers that proceeded it, Silver Airways and Great Lakes Air.
“Cape Air seems to have figured out the methodology of providing the service,” said Walt McNutt, chairman of the Sidney-Richland Airport Authority and a member of the state’s Essential Air Service committee.
Cape Air first picked up the contract in late 2013 and since has been offering the round-trip flights between Billings and five rural airports: Glasgow, Glendive, Havre, Sidney, and Wolf Point.
Federal subsidies make Essential Air Service flights possible, keeping customers’ share of airfare down to $49 a flight. Butte and West Yellowstone also use Essential Air Service subsidies to connect to Salt Lake City.
Cape Air was one of three bidders this fall to service rural Montana and with Cape Air’s track record, airport managers across the region were hopeful it would get the contract again.
“They’re a real good company compared to the others,” said Ryan Huotari, manager of the Sidney-Richland Airport.
The carrier’s ridership is up 188% and their on-time departures are within the 98% range.
“They seem to just do a really good job taking care of people,” McNutt said.
The carrier service does two flights a day from Glasgow, Glendive, Havre and Wolf Point to Billings, and five flights a day from Sidney to Billings. From Billings those fliers can then connect to commercial flights to the rest of the country. Access to a major commercial airport is one of the requirements for the Essential Air Service contract.
The subsidies are significant. Cape Air receives roughly $2.2 million per city for service to Glasgow, Glendive and Havre. It receives $2.4 million for service to Wolf Point and it receives $4.2 million for its service to Sidney. In all, Cape Air’s contract to service the six eastern Montana communities is $13.3 million a year.