January 16

Continued American Airlines flights relieve Maine officials

Staying on the airline’s schedule after it’s forced to cut routes will be an economic boon for Portland and Bangor.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – Representatives from the Portland and Bangor airports on Thursday welcomed news that American Airlines will continue operating nonstop flights to the two Maine cities despite cutbacks elsewhere.

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An American Airlines jet takes off from Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport. The airline is keeping Portland and Bangor on its schedule after cutting routes.

The Associated Press

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As part of American Airlines’ merger with U.S. Airways, American was forced to give up 52 “slots” – regularly scheduled departures and arrivals – to and from Washington’s Reagan National Airport and 17 slots from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The change was required in order to avoid giving the newly merged company too much control of the traffic into the busy airports.

American Airlines eliminated nonstop routes from Reagan National to 17 small or mid-sized cities as part of the agreement. Portland Jetport and Bangor International Airport were not on the cut list, however.

Roughly 78,000 passengers flew nonstop aboard U.S. Airways planes between the Portland Jetport and Reagan National Airport during the second quarter of 2013. While the airline currently operates four direct round-trip flights between Maine and Washington, that number jumps to six or seven per day during the busy summer months, said Jetport director Paul Bradbury.

Bradbury said one major benefit of the merger is that the Jetport will now be part of all three major airline alliances with the addition of American Airlines.

Those alliances can help airports gain traffic from businesses that book their employees on carriers that are part of a certain alliance and also provides additional connectivity to international travelers.

The fact that an airport of Portland’s size is part of all three alliances is significant, Bradbury said.

“We are no longer talking just domestic (travel),” he said. “We are talking about connecting to the world. So the way you measure small, regional airports is connectivity to the world.”

Chris Hall, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said it was “great news” that the Jetport would keep nonstop flights he described as critical in a business world in which “time is money” is more than a cliche.

“From my perspective, having airline connectivity to major cities is an essential part of economic development,” Hall said. “You can’t retain businesses, you can’t grow your economy if you don’t have airline service.”

U.S. Airways operates between one and three roundtrip direct flights between Bangor International Airport and Reagan National, depending on the season.

Roughly 60 percent of the passengers on those flights are not Maine residents, meaning many are likely coming to the state for business or leisure, said airport director Tony Caruso.

“The news we got was certainly very pleasing,” Caruso said. “This flight is a high-performer. Our load factor is easily 80 to 90 percent,” he said, referring to the filled capacity of the plane.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation lobbied hard to keep the direct flights to Portland and Bangor, as did lawmakers from other small and midsized cities that were facing potential cutbacks.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, met Thursday with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker to discuss the importance of airline service to the state’s economy.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

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