WASHINGTON – Cape Air is considering picking up the federally subsidized air service to Bar Harbor and Presque Isle that Colgan Air Inc. intends to drop.

Massachusetts-based Cape Air already operates federally subsidized routes between Augusta and Boston and Rockland and Boston, and plans to “have a conversation with the communities” about the type of air service they are seeking, said Andrew Bonney, Cape Air’s vice president of planning.

“Cape Air already has been in touch with airport managers at Presque Isle and Bar Harbor and we will look at the opportunity to serve both those locations,” Bonney said Monday. He said the airline has been “very pleased” with increased passenger counts at the Augusta and Rockland airports.

Colgan Air wants to discontinue its federally subsidized Maine-to-Boston routes, as well as a route between Boston and Plattsburgh, N.Y., because a corporate restructuring means eliminating most of its Boston operations.

Joe Williams, a Colgan spokesman, said in an email Monday that the company has filed notice with the Department of Transportation of its intent to give up the federally subsidized routes.

Wiliams said Colgan has 10 employees in Bar Harbor and 11 in Presque Isle.

“It’s difficult to say how many people ultimately will be affected, because we will be working with them over the next several weeks to try to match them with available positions elsewhere in our network,” Williams said.

Colgan Air can’t just drop the routes, because its contract with the Department of Transportation to operate them runs through May 31 for Presque Isle and Oct. 31, 2012, for Bar Harbor. Federal officials will seek bids for a new carrier or carriers to operate the routes, and Colgan Air will keep flying them until a new carrier is found, probably next year.

Both Cape Air and Colgan Air have been flying the Maine-Boston routes with the aid of the federal Essential Air Service program. Some lawmakers, mainly House Republicans, want to eliminate the program, which is paying subsidies of more than $188 million this year to airlines operating at 153 airports in 35 states and Puerto Rico. That includes airports in Augusta, Rockland, Bar Harbor and Presque Isle.

Maine’s congressional delegation and airport officials and civic leaders from the communities that benefit from the program say it provides needed commercial air service to more remote locations.

Detractors note that the program originally was supposed to last just 10 years, and that its annual cost has grown from about $50 million 10 years ago to the current cost approaching $200 million. Some routes — one between Las Vegas and Ely, Nev., is often is cited as an example — have mostly empty planes and subsidies that far exceed $1,000 per passenger.

Cape Air receives an annual federal subsidy of $1.36 million for the Augusta route and $1.42 million for the Rockland route, and is committed to flying those routes until Oct. 31, 2014.

Cape Air offers four flights daily on the Augusta-Boston route from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, dropping to three times daily after that. The Rockland route has five daily flights during July and August, four daily flights in June and September and three from October to May.

In June, 1,175 passengers flew in and out of Augusta on the Cape Air flight, the airline says. That is almost double the 635 passengers who flew the route in June 2010, and is the highest number of passengers in any June since at least 1995.

Cape Air says that in March, 494 passengers flew out of Knox County Regional Airport, more than in any March since at least 1985 and a 25 percent increase over March 2010. Those numbers increased this summer, to 1,494 passengers in June and 2,278 in July, Cape Air said has said.

Colgan Air, which flies as US Airways using 34-seat turboprops at Presque Isle and Bar Harbor, receives an annual subsidy of $2.29 million for the Bar Harbor route and $2.81 million for the Presque Isle route, with per-passenger subsidies coming to $100 for Bar Harbor and $109 for Presque Isle.

Cape Air’s nine-seat prop plane isn’t equipped to operate non-stop on the Boston-Presque Isle route because of its distance, but it could work to offer that service through one of its major carrier partners, which include Jet Blue, Delta and US Airways, or it could offer a Presque Isle-to-Augusta route that would then connect to Boston. Cape Air can fly non-stop between Bar Harbor and Boston.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]

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