Presque Isle Int’l Increases Connectivity With New Service From United

Presque Isle Int’l Increases Connectivity With New Service From United
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

A long-term effort to improve service for residents of Northern Maine has ultimately resulted in the award of commercial jet service by a legacy carrier to the recently rebranded Presque Isle International Airport (PQI).  

Following six years of service to/from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) via the now defunct regional carrier PenAir, the U.S. Department of Transportation fulfilled PQI’s wishes by authorizing United Airlines to provide 12 nonstop round trips per week via 50-seat jet aircraft to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). The associated Essential Air Service grant officially commenced July 1 for a two-year term. 

Securing the new service was like winning a trifecta for the airport formerly known as Northern Maine Regional Airport at Presque Isle. “I can’t tell you how exciting it was to get, for the first time, a major network carrier; for the first time, jet service; and for the first time, a major network hub,” says PQI Airport Director Scott Wardwell. “We are very excited for what’s going to happen to the market in the future.”


Project: Commercial Jet Service

Location: Presque Isle Int’l Airport (formerly Northern Maine Regional Airport at Presque Isle)

Airport Owner: City of Presque Isle

Air Service Development Consultant: Volaire Aviation Consulting

New Service To/From: Newark Liberty Int’l Airport

Frequency: 12 nonstop roundtrips/week   

Carrier: United Airlines

Start Date: July 1, 2018

Funding Support: Essential Air Service Grant

Approx. Subsidy: $4.8 million/yr

Key Benefits: Enhanced service for regional residents; connectivity with other domestic & int’l destinations via United hub 


Prior to the recent United Airlines arrangement, the last time PQI had any semblance of network service was before airline deregulation, when Delta Airlines connected Presque Isle, Bangor, Portland (all in Maine) with Boston and New York City. 

Jack Penning, managing partner of Volaire Aviation Consulting, jokingly describes the service as 727s making a “milk run” down the coast.

“It wasn’t the same kind of hub and spoke service that you see today,” he muses. 

In recent years, Penning spent many hours working with PQI staff to recruit an appropriate essential air service carrier that would fulfill the more modern travel needs in Northern Maine.

“Scott Wardwell is one of the hardest working airport directors there is, and he has been banging the drum that Presque Isle can support jet service since I met him,” says Penning, noting that the relationship between PQI and Volaire dates back two years. “He trusted us, we trusted him, and we got it done.’”

Proving that there was regional business potential that would support air service was crucial to securing a new carrier, explains Penning. While Presque Isle is a small city with less than 20,000 people, the region includes a population of nearly 200,000. Volaire performed a number of studies and focus groups to determine what was, and was not, working with PQI’s previous air service. The consultants investigated how the airport’s brand resonated throughout the community and probed for specific areas in need of improvement.

Volaire’s research determined that the PenAir Boston route was significantly curbing the region’s overall development.

“PenAir had very limited agreements with other airlines, so you had to buy two tickets to go virtually anywhere. You had to leave security in Boston, then go recheck in on your second ticket, check your bags in again, and go to your next flight,” Penning explains. “What we saw is that the route only carried traffic to Boston, and that handcuffed economic development for all of Northern Maine.” 

Armed with this knowledge, PQI met one-on-one with more than 50 airlines in an effort to find the right carrier for its market. Overall, the process took about four years. 

“We were actually thinking we had a different airline interested in a different hub, because United played it very close to the vest,” says Penning, referencing a proposal for SkyWest service from PQI to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). “But then, just before the bids were due in January, United said that we had convinced them, and that they would like to begin service this summer to Newark.” 

Chosen from a field of five other airlines—Boutique Air, PenAir, Silver, SkyValue and SkyWest—United proved to be the clincher. Not only was it the sole legacy carrier, it was also the lowest bidder, with a requested annual subsidy of $4,780,955. In comparison, incumbent carrier PenAir’s annual subsidy bid exceeded $6 million. 

Special consideration was given to bids with service to BOS because many local citizens had come to rely on PenAir’s service there; but ultimately, the Presque Isle City Council and Airport Advisory Committee sought the best proposal to meet the overall needs of the flying public and the best option to connect local passengers to the larger national air transportation system. 

Despite SkyWest’s proposal of service to IAD, airport leaders felt that United’s proposal to EWR would better serve passengers traveling to BOS and beyond. United’s service to EWR—a slots-controlled airport that ranks as the carrier’s third third-largest U.S. hub—will provide customers with access to the airline’s extensive domestic and international route network.

“It just so happened that our lowest bid, which was United, was our best bid in terms of the schedule, the connectivity, where it went, and the type of plane,” Penning remarks. “So the community wholly recommended it.”

New Carrier

In addition to gaining the support of Presque Isle’s elected officials, United also benefited from its solid reputation for reliability in the essential air service program, says Penning.  

“I am excited about it because it changes the landscape of connectivity for the whole region,” adds Wardwell. “All of a sudden, the region is connected to the entire world, and that means that companies can get in and out much more quickly, which means that for economic development purposes, Presque Isle and Maine are ripe places for businesses to locate.”

Officials from United are similarly enthusiastic about gaining a new market. “United Airlines is committed to connecting our customers easily and conveniently to destinations around the U.S. and beyond,” says Ankit Gupta, the carrier’s vice president of Domestic Network Planning. “We are thrilled to be the airline connecting Presque Isle to our hub in Newark, where we offer even more choice and more opportunities to travel to the destinations that are most important to them.” 

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