Silver Airways Leaves Sept. 27
A new airline has been chosen to fly Essential Air Service routes to five cities in Montana. After hearing presentations from three companies last Thursday, the EAS Task Force unanimously chose Cape Air, a New England-based regional airline that serves 37 cities throughout the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, Caribbean and Micronesia.
Cape Air serves 15 EAS cities in Vermont, New York, Maine, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. It was formed in 1989 with a single Cessna that flew from Boston to Cape Cod. Now it has a fleet of 74 aircraft and will fly 750,000 passengers this year.
Every fare will cost $49, including taxes and fees.
Their option A, which the Task Force members preferred, offers several direct flights a day between Billings and the five cities, Glasgow, Wolf Point, Havre, Sidney and Glendive.
Silver Airways announced that after two years of service it will stop operations in Montana on Sept. 27, in part because EAS flights to Lewistown and Miles City were cut off by new caps on passenger subsidies.
Cape Air exclusively flies Cessna 402 twin-engine aircraft. This is a nine-passenger plane modified by Cape Air to carry more weight in baggage.
“This is often perceived as a liability,” said Mike Migliore, CFO of Cape Air. “Some prefer a larger plane but this works really for small communities. We could buy any airplane we want to but this is designed for small community airports. It’s a relatively simple airplane. We have 25 years experience with it and know it very well.”
Migliore said when their Cessnas have replaced Beechcraft 1900s, ridership goes up.
The airline will budget $45,000 per year for each community for marketing, getting involved with activities like Little League.
Boutique Airlines proposed to operate out of a private terminal at Billings and not use TSA in the cities it would serve. Passengers connecting to other flights would be bussed to the main Billings terminal for security screening. The spokesman said 90 percent of passengers don’t continue past Billings, so it would be convenient for them.
The company is new, established in 2007, but the spokesman said many employees are very experienced with EAS and rural service. Boutique does not serve any cities with scheduled service. It is a charter service out of Burbank, Calif., with headquarters in San Francisco.
Task Force discussion made it clear that TSA service had been hard-won and they wanted to keep it.
Great Lakes Airlines, which flew EAS in Montana for two years but was not renewed by the EAS Task Force, made a bid to serve just Sidney and Glendive, saying they don’t have surplus airplanes for the other cities.
This was not viewed as an option by the committee. John Rabenberg, chairman of the EAS Task Force, said the task force was developed so there would be a viable group of cities.
“If we split up the cities, we’re done,” Rabenberg said.
The start date for Cape Air service in Montana is not certain. The airline has the planes but needs some pilots. Because it is a summer-intensive airline, the timing is good to start up soon, shifting pilots to Montana as the Cape Cod and Caribbean traffic winds down.