DECATUR — Hoping to gain altitude quickly in Decatur, Cape Air began selling itself to community and business leaders on Thursday as it prepares to offer its first flights from Decatur Airport on Feb. 14.
"What I really want to do is hear from you on what you guys need to ensure that we are delivering for Decatur exactly the best-fit air service that we can possibly do," said Andrew Bonney, senior vice president of planning at Cape Air, to the Decatur Club audience at a lunch hosted by the airline.
The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Massachusetts-based Cape Air a two-year Essential Air Service contract with the airport instead of SkyWest, the Utah-based airline preferred by the Decatur Park District and several key business leaders — especially Archer Daniels Midland Co. The department had said SkyWest's jet service would cost $700,000 more to subsidize. SkyWest appealed the decision on Jan. 10, but later withdrew, clearing the way for Cape Air.
Cape Air's fleet of 90 aircraft operates several small-market flight networks, its largest in New England. Its flights from Decatur will be on twin-engine Cessnas that seat nine.
"We really do specialize in high-frequency, small-aircraft service," Bonney said. "You actually get more ridership with higher frequency, than larger aircraft with smaller frequency."
If the more frequent schedule to both Chicago and St. Louis can bring about 2,000 more passengers this year to Decatur, the airport will be entitled to an additional $850,000 in federal funding.
"We're close to our goal. With Cape Air, we hope now that we'll definitely reach the goal of 10,000 enplanements and beyond," said Tim Wright, director of the Decatur Airport, referring to the statistic federal aviation authorities use to award money to small airports.
Cape Air's service provides several upgrades over Air Choice One, the company that's been operating out of Decatur Airport since 2009. Cape Air has agreements with most of the major airlines so that checked luggage can be transferred directly to a connecting flight, and fliers can book trips from Decatur on popular booking websites with connecting flights on the same ticket.
"I love the fact that we're going to have frequency, which I think is very important for our community," said David Koshinski, CEO of Decatur-based Investment Planners Inc. "I'm very impressed by their commitment to the community."
Bonney said Cape Air will be marketing its services locally, and it will be opening a ticketing office in town within the next few weeks.
"The additional arrangements they have on interline baggage and some of the other things clear up some of the hurdles I've heard before on traveling on air service into Decatur," said Ryan McCrady, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County.
Fares to St. Louis will start from $29 each way and fares to Chicago will start from $59 each way, and go up based on demand, Bonney said.