Cape Air, airport happy with passenger counts

September 28, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Six months into Cape Air's commuter air service at Hagerstown Regional Airport, airport and airline officials say they are pleased with the service and its steadily rising passenger counts, which are approaching an average of three per flight.

"As far as the initial response, we couldn't be happier," said Cape Air spokeswoman Michelle Haynes. "The community support has been terrific."

Sept. 24 marked the six-month anniversary of the service, which provides four round trips a day between Hagerstown Regional Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in nine-seat Cessna planes.

The service is part of the Essential Air Service program, which provides a federal subsidy to link rural communities with larger hub airports. The initial subsidy for Cape Air to provide the service was set to expire Sept. 30, but it has been extended another six months, through March 2010, said Andrew Bonney, vice president of planning for Cape Air.


Cape Air receives $1.2 million a year from EAS for serving Hagerstown, Bonney said.

Passenger counts for September are not available yet, but from March 24 to Aug. 30, Cape Air had 2,750 passengers, counting each one-way trip separately, Bonney said.

The average number of passengers per flight has grown from 1.5 in March to 2.6 in August, according to data provided by Cape Air.

Passenger counts vary from flight to flight, however, with some full and some empty, said Greg Larsen, business development manager for Hagerstown Regional Airport.

For example, on Sept. 17, the early morning outbound flight from Hagerstown had five passengers, the midmorning outbound flight had the full nine, the early afternoon outbound flight had one and the evening outbound flight was empty, Larsen said.

Larsen said he expected Cape Air would be used primarily by seasoned business travelers, but those seem to be outnumbered by nonbusiness travelers who use the service to avoid the hassle of driving to a major airport and paying for parking there.

Paul and Audrey Clopper, owners of Sunnyway Diner in Greencastle, Pa., said they used Cape Air to connect to BWI for a recent vacation in Las Vegas.

Paul Clopper said the ride in the Cessna was a little more cramped than riding in an airliner, and the outbound flight was a little bumpy, but he was happy for the opportunity to skip driving to Baltimore, where the couple would have had to stay overnight to catch an early flight.

"It's so convenient," he said. "Just drive over there (to Hagerstown Regional Airport), and you park and you leave, and when you get back, in 10 minutes, you're home."

Another perk is that if a passenger buys a ticket but does not show up for the flight, he or she can reuse the ticket for another flight without penalty for up to a year, subject to availability, Larsen said.

Haynes said Cape Air is making a considerable investment in TV, radio and print advertising to spread the word about the service and its advantages over driving to a major airport.

Bonney said if the service continues to grow and makes it past the two-year mark, Cape Air might consider adding a fifth round trip each day.

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