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9-seat Cessna 402C (Maine Aviation Sales)

North Country flight plans called unacceptable

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The three airlines hoping to serve North Country airports got their hopes dashed Friday evening, when the U.S. Department of Transportation said their proposals were unacceptable.

But the problem wasn't with the airlines. As Jonathan Brown reports, town officials in Massena, Ogdensburg and Watertown couldn't come together to support one of the proposals submitted. So, the federal agency denied all of them.

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There were a lot of proposals.

Cape Air submitted three plans, with subtle variations on the non-stop routes it flies now on 9-seat planes from Massena, Ogdensburg and Watertown to Albany. And, for an added fee, would then take passengers to Boston.

Charter Air offered to fly 30-seaters directly to JFK in New York City. But only from two of these North Country airports. None of them supported this idea.

Another airline, Gulfstream International proposed non-stop flights from Massena to Boston, Ogdensburg to Albany and Watertown to Boston—twice a day—on 19-seat aircraft.

Only Ogdensburg endorsed Cape Air’s bid, but it required support from at least two airports.

And even though Massena and Watertown agreed to go with Gulfstream, this proposal needed backing from all three.

These requirements came from the airlines themselves, not local or federal officials.

The final decision rests with the U.S. Department of Transportation because it pumps millions into subsidies to maintain passenger flights to and from rural, seldom-used airports.

Federal officials have repeatedly said they’ll continue supporting this spending, despite rising pressure to end it.

Last year, the federal government paid Cape Air nearly $3.9 million to serve Massena, Ogdensburg and Watertown. That’s in addition to the ticket price paid by passengers.

For now, Cape Air will keep flying into and out of these three North Country airports. Federal Transportation officials are calling for revised proposals from the airlines interested in the area—and the subsidies. The new bids are due by the end of the month.

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