Flights from rural areas that sit at a long distance from major airports can be crucial and important to the local economy. Glasgow will say goodbye to Silver Airways, formally known as Gulfstream Air, and welcome Cape Air – which will provide cheaper flights.
Cape Air officially opened up for business on Tuesday, Dec. 10. The ribbon cutting ceremony took place after the first flight left Glasgow for Billings. Trish Lorino, managing director of marketing and public relations, explained that the airline saw the bid for providing flights for rural Montana and they had good experience providing flights in other locations through the same program.
"We were able to lower costs, and we wanted to make it affordable and be able to offer flights in each direction," Lorino said.
The fights will take place on a Cessna 402, which is a nine passenger aircraft. Flights have already been open for booking. Cape Air also will service the Sidney, Glendive, Wolf Point and Havre communities. Including Glasgow, all but Sidney will have two daily round-trip flights. Sidney, due to increased traffic will have five daily round-trips available.
Dan Wolf, CEO and founder of Cape Air, welcomed around a dozen people to the ribbon cutting ceremony. Members of the city council, airport board and chamber of commerce were present with a few other community members. Wolf explained that he started the business 25 years earlier with just one plane and compared his business to the "little engine that could." The company now has 83 planes and 42 destinations.
"We've just continued to spread our wings," Wolf said. "Our company is successful because we love what we do and we go into communities and look to serve."
Wolf added that Montana looked pretty close to the same as it did 32 years ago when he flew through the state. He said that challenge in Montana will not be the weather but setting up the locations in just a matter of three months, since the go ahead from the Department of Transportation came such a short time before they opened for business. The flights leave Glasgow at 7:15 a.m. and 2:20 p.m ., and flights will come into Glasgow at 12:21 p.m. and 7:21 p.m.
Wolf added, when asked by Sheriff Glen Meier if they would bring in larger planes, that the company focuses more on frequency in flights. He said that people prefer hourly service over bigger planes and in their other locations they've been able to compete with bigger airlines and keep costs down by keeping smaller aircraft with more flights. The airline said that the challenge is to get ridership up in the next two years, so the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) will give the approval for another flight. Wolf added that they've seen some of their markets increase to four times the amount they started with.
Larry Mires and Pete Peterson have served on the Essential Airways Task Force for a number of years. Mires is Peterson's alternate on the task force and said that the two have attended several meetings. Mires gave a brief background on the transitions at the airport and how the subsidy works for airlines in rural areas.
The deregulation of airlines in the late 1970s required that commercial air services be provided to seven communities in the area. The airlines subsidized the flights to help get people to larger airport hubs, like Billings. Those hubs help provide trips to medical appointments and connecting flights. Mires explained that in areas like Glasgow there is virtually no public transportation services other than Amtrak, which only runs east to west or vice versa, and that creates problems.
A larger airline provided services for a time and allowed federal and state employees, along with other business persons, to travel to Helena and Billings for meetings and be home by evening. Mires explained that the subsidy was designed to help communities that were 250 miles from a major airport and it was to be used by everyone. Without the subsidy, he said, the flights would cost individuals around $500.
Previous flights had complaints due to lack of service, and sometimes flights were unreliable.
Mires said Gulfstream Airways, which later changed its name to Silver Airways, did a good job and didn't have many issues until the last year. He explained that the business based out of Florida began to find it a struggle to run the company from Florida and have flights run in Montana. Mires explained that new rules came out through the Essential Air Service Act that made it more difficult to use the subsidy for rural flights.
Things began to change and Silver Airways began to cancel more services. The new rules and regulations had hard rules on the number of miles from a major airport and the number of people boarding planes. Mires said that they advertised on the federal registry for an Essential Air Service Contract, which attracted Cape Air to make a bid.
Flights through Silver Airways added up to cost around $150 round-trip. They began to offer non-refundable tickets at a lower cost later on for $55 each way. Tickets also had to be booked over 20 days in advance. Cape Air will offer flights for $49, costing close to $100 round-trip. They also will allow booking up to the last hour if seats are available.
Mires explained that without the airport the economic impact on the community could big. He hopes to see more use of the airport with cheaper tickets and regular flights, which may bring more business to Glasgow.
"I'm hoping and I'm positive we're going to see better, affordable and more reliable services to Billings," Mires said.
Cape Air serves New England, New York, the Caribbean, Florida, the Midwest and Micronesia. Lorino said the air service is used to people bringing on additional baggage from shopping excursions, so they will be able to provide space for extra luggage. For flight information or booking, you can visit http://www.capeair.com, call 1-800-CAPE-AIR, or visit the local airport.