Cape Air revitalizes Rutland Airport

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(Host) Many small regional airports are struggling to provide passenger service.

But at Rutland’s airport, ticket sales have surged over the past two months.

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, a new carrier, more convenient flights and lower ticket prices have meant a big boost in business.

(Keck) Cape Air, a commuter airline based in Hyannis, Massachusetts began providing passenger service to Rutland October 30th. Rutland’s airport manager is Tom Trudeau.

(Trudeau) "The airline has been doing great since that time. We’ve had more passengers through the terminal than I’ve seen – I think I have to go back to the early ‘90s to look at the numbers they’ve been flying."

(Keck) The previous carrier, Commut Air, offered 12 flights a week at what many considered inconvenient times.

Trudeau says Cape Air offers three flights a day to Boston, is priced much more competitively, and is affiliated with Jet Blue.

(Trudeau) "We are seeing a few people from places we haven’t seen before and we suspect it’s because of the Jet Blue connection. We never had that kind of connection with a major discount carrier before."

(Keck) Ridership in November, for example, was double and triple the previous two Novembers says Trudeau.

Officials at Cape Air were unavailable for an interview. But company spokeswoman Michele Haynes wrote in an email that they had 824 passengers in December.

That’s up 136% compared to last December. She says the company is thrilled and considers Rutland to be one of the best routes they’ve ever launched.

Tom Trudeau says the boost in ridership has benefited other businesses as well.

The local taxi services are busier, and he says there are now more car rental agencies at the airport.

Matt Barrett is the owner of the local Hertz franchise.

(Barrett) "Since we’ve been in Rutland we’ve never had a fully manned rental counter at the airport because the flights were very inconvenient for travelers. We didn’t see a lot of business coming in and out of Rutland. But with Cape Air‘s schedule and some of this up tick in business we actually have a manned counter now at the Rutland Airport and it’s worked out very well for us. We’ve definitely seen an increase in business."

(Keck) An increase he estimates between 20% and 50%.

Great skiing conditions in December helped boost their numbers, but he says he expects air traffic to remain strong all year.

Airport manager Tom Trudeau says it’s nice to have good news, considering the challenges facing most small regional airports.

(Trudeau) "If you go just as close as Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake – they just lost their service and are having a hard time finding a new one. So that we have Cape Air here and that it’s working is a real anomaly in a national system that’s languishing because of the increased fixed costs and how tough it is to turn a profit in a real small market."

(Keck) Cape Air may soon provide passenger airline service to Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake. Gary Douglas, of the Plattsburgh Chamber of Commerce, says he believes the airline plans to submit proposals to serve both airports.

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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