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A Cape Air Cessna 402 taking off (Photo: AirlineGeeks)

Cape Air Chosen for Manistee Essential Air Service Despite Controversy

After many months of consideration and debate, a new Essential Air Service or ‘EAS’ contract has been selected for the Manistee/Ludington airport in northwestern Michigan. The carrier chosen is Cape Air, despite controversy and letters from both community members and the CEO of San Francisco-based Boutique Air.

At the beginning of July 2020, AirlineGeeks reported on a letter submitted by Boutique Air CEO Shawn Simpson accusing American Airlines of interference with the bidding process, citing unfair competition due to American Airlines letter of support for Cape Air. The letter from the Boutique Air’s CEO, Shawn Simpson, also claims that the letter of support from American, “unduly influenced the decision by the Manistee Airport Authority to endorse Cape Air’s proposal.”

Mr. Simpson requested that the department eliminate Cape Air’s proposal for consideration in a letter that he sent to the DOT. The response from the DOT came roughly three-weeks later on July 27, 2020, in a document, denying the request that Cape Air’s proposal should be eliminated. They didn’t give any further reason other than, “It is the Department’s view that American’s letter confirms Cape Air’s contractual and codeshare arrangements with American”.

The total comment count for Manistee EAS service was four in favor of Cape Air, and nine in favor of Boutique Air. Although the number of comments for Boutique was greater, the comments for Cape held more weight as they were placed by government offices such as the Manistee Chamber of Commerce, Manistee Airport Board, and similar local government departments and the comments for Boutique were placed by what is assumed to be individual people.

Awarded Service Details

Despite the controversy, Massachusetts-based Cape Air won the EAS contract for Manistee/Ludington and will run for two years from October 1, 2020, until September 30, 2022, at which point they can re-apply or decide to end service to the northern Michigan city. They will fly an average of three-round trips per-day From the Michigan city to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport onboard their new Tecnam P2012 Traveller aircraft.

The route will be flown at a subsidy rate of $3,683,643 for the first year, and $3,794,152 for the second year,  the document selecting the carrier can be viewed publically here.

This will be the carrier’s first destination in the state of Michigan, further signifying their commitment to growing in the region. Manistee will be the fifth Essential Air Service city and the seventh city overall that Cape Air will serve in the Midwest United States.

Passengers will be able to utilize the codeshare American Airlines will put on the route, the entire reason for the controversy. It hasn’t been mentioned by the carrier, but one can only assume that passengers will also be able to access the carrier’s other partnerships with United and JetBlue at Chicago O’Hare. Although JetBlue’s network out of Chicago isn’t that significant, the partnership with United will mean passengers can utilize the two largest airlines in Chicago.

The current airline, North Country Sky operated by Ultimate Air Shuttle, will continue to operate to Manistee until the new service begins thereby causing no disruption in service between the transition of carriers.

This will also be the first time since 2012 that passengers can connect to another flight on the same ticket as currently serving North Country Sky, which flies to Chicago Midway from the city, doesn’t offer codeshare or baggage agreements with any airline. This means that for the past eight-years unless Chicago was your final destination, Manistee passengers were forced to recheck their bags and go through security again once arriving in the Windy City.

The flight times and exact schedule have not yet been released by the carrier.


  • AirlineGeeks.com began in February, 2013 as a one-man (er… teenager, rather) show. Since then, we’ve grown to have 20 active team members, and yes, we’re still growing. Some of us are looking to work in the aviation industry as professionals when we grow older. Some of us are still trying to decide what we want to do. That’s okay though, because we’re all here for the same reason: we love the airlines. We’re the youngest team of airline industry journalists out there.

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