Cape Air will continue to serve area, new planes just months away

Jason Stuart
Sunday, December 1, 2019
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Cape Air is phasing out its fleet of Cessnas and replacing them with the new Tecnam P2012 Traveller. The planes are expected to arrive in Montana in early 2020.

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Cape Air’s new fleet of airplanes will be more comfortable than the current planes. Each seat will have a window, Italian leather seats, cupholders and USB charging ports.

Cape Air recently secured a new four-year Essential Air Service contract to continue providing commercial passenger air service to Glendive and other Eastern Montana communities, and with the new contract looms a new dawn for the airline as Cape Air begins the process of retiring its fleet of Cessna 402 aircraft to make way for a brand new airplane which is just months away from beginning operation on Cape Air routes, including here in Montana.

Ridership on Cape Air from Glendive and the other Montana communities it services — Glasgow, Sidney, Wolf Point and Havre — has mostly remained steady through 2019, though Glendive has seen a slight dip in overall passengers, with 7.4 percent fewer passengers for the year-to-date through the end of September than in 2018. Some months have seen a slight decline from the previous year, while some months have seen a slight increase.

“Overall, ridership has been good. From our perspective, we’re pleased with the ridership we see” Cape Air spokeswoman Erin Hatzell said. “We see a lot of frequent customers who fly with us regularly.”

The one big outlier in terms of ridership numbers in 2019 so far was February, which saw almost a 21 percent dip in Cape Air passengers in Glendive, with similar drops across all Cape Air’s Montana routes during the same month. Hatzell said the reason that month saw such a big, acrossthe-board decrease in passengers is simple — terrible winter weather during February 2019 which caused a lot of flight cancellations.

“We had a really tough time in our Midwest and Northeast operations in February,” Hatzell said. “That was across the board, pretty much across our entire network.”

As 2019 draws to a close, Cape Air is looking not so much to the year behind but the year ahead, which is going to be an exciting time for the company as they begin phasing out their fleet of Cessnas and replacing them with the new Tecnam P2012 Traveller. The Traveller is the end result of an official partnership to develop a new twin-engine commuter aircraft forged between Cape Air and Italian aircraft manufacturer Tecnam several years ago. Now the Traveller is ready for operations, with Cape Air recently taking delivery of their first four Travellers at their Hyannis, Mass., headquarters.

Flying on the Traveller will be an entirely different — and most importantly, better and more comfortable — experience than flying on the old Cessna 402s, Hatzell said.

“I went and saw it at Hyannis and it really is a beautiful plane,” she said of the Traveller. “Every seat has a window and really nice, comfy Italian leather seats. And every seat has cupholders and USB charging ports. They really are spectacular.”

In addition to boasting more amenities, the new planes will also allow Cape Air to add one more passenger seat to all their routes.

“We will be adding a new seat to the market, so that’s great, and it’s got all the modern amenities,” Hatzell said.

Cape Air’s pilots and mechanics are currently getting training on the new Travellers and will continue to do so over the next few months. When exactly the first Travellers will arrive here in Montana and begin operations, Hatzell said she can’t give an exact time, but it is only just a few months away.

“I don’t have a start date, but we are looking sometime around first quarter 2020,” she said of when the new planes will begin flying in Montana.

Until then, Cape Air will keep flying its fleet of Cessna 402s as it has for the last couple of decades. Hatzell said the Cessnas are no doubt getting towards the end of their service life and require more frequent maintenance, but she said any suggestion that Cape Air has been struggling to keep them flying is overexaggerated.

“It’s been no more challenging than it ever has been (to keep the Cessnas in working order). There have been challenges, but we’re the foremost experts on the Cessna 402 in the nation, and other operators often call us for our expertise,” she said.

The one major drawback of continuing to operate the Cessna 402 is that they do require more maintenance attention due to their age, taking up more of Cape Air’s time and money than they’d prefer.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge, other than just from a cost and manpower perspective,” Hatzell said. “But we haven’t run into anything that can’t be fixed. Other than (maintenance cost and mechanic hours), these planes are just great workhorses.”

But the venerable 402’s days as a workhorse will soon draw to a close as the Tecnam P2012 Traveller is readied to take its place in the coming months. Cape Air is incredibly excited to debut the new aircraft across its markets in 2020, and Hatzell said she suspects the flying public will be excited too.

“We couldn’t be more excited. It will be an exciting year for us with the introduction of the Tecnam P2012,” she said. “I know everybody’s going to want a ticket on that first flight.”

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