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June 3, 2020

United wins $6.8M contract for Presque Isle air service, despite some local pushback

Courtesy / PQI United Airlines has won a second consecutive federal contract to provide service at Presque Isle International Airport. The carrier will continue flying to and from Newark, N.J., in 50-seat jets, like the one shown here touching down at PQI.

United Airlines, which has served Presque Isle International Airport for the past two years, will continue to take off and touch down there for another two.

The U.S. Department of Transportation last week awarded United a second contract through the federally subsidized Essential Air Service program to provide the only commercial flights at PQI. Under the contract, put out to bid in November, United will continue to connect the city in Aroostook County with the airline’s hub at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

The contract gives United an annual subsidy of $6.8 million, a $2 million increase over the previous deal, and runs from July 1 to May 31, 2022. United will again operate 12 round trips per week in 50-seat, twin-engine regional jets.

The carrier beat out four other bids for the contract — three from Southern Airways Express and one from Silver Airways, according to the order, released Friday. All of the competing proposals sought amounts significantly less than United’s, and all would have provided service to and from Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Silver Airways, which also provides EAS flights at Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, withdrew from the Presque Isle contract competition before the award was made.

In making the award, the DOT said that the Presque Isle City Council and the city’s Airport Advisory Committee both supported United’s proposal. But many community members did not.

“The Department acknowledges the large number of letters it received from concerned citizens in Presque Isle and other users of the service regarding this EAS carrier-selection case,” the order read. “Many expressed the desire for the community to have service to the [Boston] hub.

“While we reviewed each letter that was received and considered the citizens’ concerns, the Department must afford substantial weight to the views of elected officials.”

The community resistance mirrors opinions voiced during United’s bid for the 2018-20 contract. In that procurement, the airline beat out five competitors including the incumbent, PenAir. Once among the largest regional airlines in the Northeast and Alaska, PenAir had been shuttling between Presque Isle and Boston under the EAS program for six years.

But United’s bid over the life of the contract was $2.4 million cheaper than PenAir’s — and was projected to carry about 2,300 more passengers a year.

The order for the 2018 award noted that the DOT “received a substantial amount of correspondence from residents and users supporting PenAir’s service, many indicating the need for continued service to [Boston] for a variety of travel reasons.”

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