Cape Air’s new service launches Tuesday > PenCityCurrent.com

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

BURLINGTON — About seven passengers boarded an 18-month-old Italian Tecnam plane bound for Chicago early Tuesday morning from the Southeast Iowa Regional Airport in Burlington.

As the sun was just beginning to peak over the eastern horizon, the white-and-blue 9-passenger Cape Air craft gently soared the southern sky over Burlington and quickly set a course east as dignitaries from the small market airline stood ready to celebrate the inaugural flight.

The plane, and another in the hangar on the airport grounds, were both on hand for flights from Burlington airport.

Cape Air was awarded the service in a competitive bidding period in 2021, after it failed to get the award for Burlington through the Department of Transportation four years ago.

Brian Callahan, Cape Air’s regional trainer and safety auditor of Billings, Mont, said the company has grown in the past 20 years into so-called Essential Air Service contracts where the federal government subsidizes flights from about 140 smaller communities in the lower 48 states. , such as Burlington and Quincy.

Sara Sandburg of Southeast Iowa Regional Airport, far left, board member John Schulz, Cape Air’s Andrew Bonney and board member Charlie Walsh talk on the tarmac after watching the new service’s inaugural flight to Chicago Tuesday morning. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

“Before 1977, every single airline route was governed by the Civil Aeronautics Board, so if you wanted to fly from here or Quincy, you applied to the CAB. They bid on competitors and set the flights and fares,” Callahan said.

President Carter deregulated the industry in 1977, allowing competitive bidding forcing larger airlines out of smaller communities. Callahan said that move prompted the creation of the Essential Air Service Act, or EAS, which provided protection of services for smaller communities.

Cape Air won the bid for Burlington in 2021 for the next four years and was re-selected for a further four years in Quincy. Cape Air has approximately 104 aircraft in the United States. They specialize in small market subsidized flights, as well as non-subsidized flights to specific markets on the east coast and in certain archipelagos.

Callahan, said the company has Essential Service operations in the Montana region, the Midwest, half of New England and one route in Puerto Rico. They also operate flights in the open market.

John Schulz, a 10-year board member of the Southeast Iowa Regional Airport, said one of the big selling points for Cape Air was codeshare and baggage agreements, in addition to comparable rates with former supplier AirChoiceOne.

“We can check our bags here and if we go to Florida, we won’t worry about it until we get there,” he said. “We don’t want to overlook that, because that was the deciding factor. Plus they have a really good reputation and they have the new planes and they plan to grow like crazy.”

The first Cape Air flight from Burlington rises above trees near Southeast Iowa Regional Airport at 7:15 AM on Tuesday morning. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Stacy Schuchardt, Midwest’s marketing manager, said the company was thrilled to be in Burlington and that the company can have a presence along the Mississippi River.

“We bid on Burlington four years ago and it was awarded to AirChoiceOne, and when it was bid again, we all came here in August and presented it,” she said.

Schuchardt said she is originally from Illinois and is a graduate of Western Illinois University and was pleased to have the service begin in Burlington.

“I really want to come back here and spend a few days. It fits really well, we have service in Quincy down the road so we can move between St. Louis, Quincy and Burlington. It makes sense to go to St. Louis and Chicago to provide service.”

“I like the history of Mississippi and the history of these communities for commerce, economics, and those things.”

Schuchardt said those wishing to book flights with St. Louis or Chicago as stopovers should book directly with American or United for a single booking. If they only want to go to Chicago or St. Louis and back, they have to book directly with Cape Air.

The company has direct partnerships with American and United Airlines and on a smaller scale with Delta.

Erin Hatzell, Managing Director for Marketing and Public Relations, said the negotiable differences in Cape Air from AirChoice were its partner airline agreements and baggage agreements.

South East Iowa Regional Airport board member John Schulz sits on the new 11-seat Tecnam aircraft that now flies from Burlington Airport. The aircraft can accommodate nine passengers, a copilot and a pilot. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

“That’s key for communities like this. EAS is there to connect communities like Burlington to the national air transport system. For us, the ease of travel, comfort and the peace of mind knowing that checked bags is here and it will end up in Tokyo, LA or Texas — wherever you go,” she said.

The caveat is that flyers must book a one-way itinerary. If you’re flying United from Chicago or St. Louis, you’ll need to book on United, or through an OTA, online travel agency, such as Orbitz, Travelocity, etc., she said.

Andrew Bonney, Senior Vice President of Planning said Cape Air started in 1989 and Boston near Cape Cod, Mass.. with one route.

He said the company basically did Cape Cod and island itineraries for the first 10 years and then went to the Caribbean and Florida to connect communities. But it wasn’t until 2002 that Cape Air made its entry into the Essential Air Service sector.

That year, Cape Air teamed up with the U.S. Department of Transportation to take over two contracts for services in Puerto Rico, and in 2007 Cape Air was asked to do some EAS flights in Vermont.

“Now we are the second largest airline in the EAS program. We have 18 contracts and about half of Cape Air is within the EAS system and the other half outside of it,” said Bonney. “We still have a very robust island business, but we also serve some small communities like Burlington and connect them to major hub airports.”

Cape Air flies daily to St. Louis for $39 each way, and daily to Chicago O’Hare for $49 each way. More information can be found at www.capeair.com.

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