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JetBlue Makes First Ever Bid for Essential Air Service Contract

The airline could be mere months away from flying to its first Essential Air Service (EAS) community.

A JetBlue E190 in Boston (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

New York-based JetBlue Airways has proposed its first Essential Air Service (EAS) contract. Over the past couple of years, we have seen more unique and odd EAS proposals emerging, such as Sun Country which did end up winning the EAS contract in Eau Claire, Wis., but other odd proposals haven’t been chosen, like New Pacific Airlines under its Ravn brand in the Rocky Mountain area.

Presque Isle, Maine has always been a unique Essential Air Service contract as it is farther away from its closest hub than a lot of EAS communities making it one of the more expensive contracts in the lower 48 states, Presque Isle also had the longest EAS route in the lower 48 for a short period of time when United offered a route to Wahington Dulles before switching it to Newark. It was also the first EAS city in the lower 48 states to see scheduled service with aircraft that featured a first-class section, and for many years, it was the only one.

There are four airlines proposing service to the community, whose current contract ends on May 31, 2024: Boutique Air, JetBlue, American, and the current provider at the airport United. Each contract is as follows, and includes links to the official documents.

United Airlines

The current operator at the airport is proposing something nearly identical to what it currently offers; 12-weekly flights on a 50-seat CRJ-550 to its Newark hub 515 miles away, which equates to twice daily service on most days except on the weekends. The CRJ-550 also features the ‘premium’ first-class section. The airline is stating that the “subsidy per passenger will decrease [in this contract] versus our 2022 bid.” Even with it going down, the subsidy requested per year is still a lot at $13,121,304.

United’s CRJ-550 (Photo: AirlineGeeks)

The proposal does not say how many years the contract would last, and only says, “We look forward to serving PQI [Presque Isle] for many years to come”. If selected passengers can connect to United and their partners just like any United flight departing from somewhere else.”

Boutique Air

The San Francisco-based carrier is proposing service to Boston, which is the closest hub to Presque Isle at 333 miles of direct routing. The proposal would be using its eight-seat Pilatus PC-12 or a Piaggio P180 Avanti, at a frequency of 42 flights a week equating to six flights every day. Although all flights are going to Boston and that is what the subsidy is calculated for, the company does mention that it “would like to reserve the ability to move up to 12 of the 42 weekly flights to a New York area airport.”

A Boutique Air Pilatus PC-12 in Chadron, Neb. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The proposal is for a four-year contract; with the yearly subsidy rate of Pilatus PC-12 flights starting at $11,973,684 for the first year and increasing every year until the fourth year subsidy of $13,861,036. The subsidy rate for the Piaggio P180 Avanti is between $8 and $15 more expensive per year. Boutique offers interline and codeshare with United, and interline alone for American which does have a large base in Boston. This carrier hasn’t won any EAS contracts in a while, and it is currently down to just two, one of which is from Boston.

American Airlines

American is proposing EAS service to Philadelphia, which would be flown using single-class 50-seat Embraer E145s. The route would be 594 miles long and is the longest flight that is being proposed by any airline in this round of bidding for Presque Isle. Just like United, American would offer 12 weekly flights equating to two daily flights almost every day, with two days only having a single flight. The airline’s contract would run for two years and is by far the most expensive option, coming in at a subsidy rate of $17,303,949 per year.

An American Eagle Embraer E145 departing (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

The airline currently only holds three EAS contracts, one of which operates from Philadephia and is located in northern New York state.

JetBlue Airways

Perhaps the most interesting proposal for this city is JetBlue, which has decided to throw its hat into the EAS ring for the very first time. The airline is proposing service to its Boston hub 333 miles away onboard the 100-seat Embraer E190s and did mention it would switch to the 140-seat Airbus A220 once the E190 is retired in 2025.

Service would only be offered once a day, but it is on a much larger aircraft, and flights are timed to line up with the airline’s arrival and departure banks out of the hub. The flights would leave Presque Isle at 6 a.m. and arrive in Boston at 7:40 a.m., with the flight back leaving Boston just before 8 p.m. and arriving in Presque Isle at 9:40 p.m.

Presque Isle would become JetBlue’s first year-round city in Maine, as the airline does already serve Portland, but only during the summer tourist season. This wouldn’t even be the airline’s shortest route out of Boston, as the heavily trafficked Boston to New York City sector is 187 miles. JetBlue is the newcomer to the EAS game, but it does have a solid chance of getting awarded the contract as it is also the cheapest option with the requested subsidy only being $10,400,000 for the first year and $11,200,000 for the second year.

A jetBlue Embraer E190 departs from Boston Logan Airport (Photo: Greg Linton)

JetBlue’s first-year subsidy is over a million less than the next cheapest overall option which is Boutique at $11,973,684 for year one. And, they are just under three million less than the next cheapest jet service option which is United sitting at $13,121,304, making JetBlue’s option relatively low considering the size of the jet.

If selected, Presque Isle would become the first EAS community in the lower 48 with a daily connection to an airline hub onboard a mainline-sized aircraft. Sun Country does serve Eau Claire from its Minneapolis hub with Boeing 737-800s but that service only operates twice a week.

As the proposals were just posted on Feb. 22, 2024, now they are in the comment period for some time. The current contract expires in May 2024.

Joey Gerardi

Author

  • Joey Gerardi

    Joe has always been interested in planes, for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Central New York during the early 2000s when US Airways Express turboprops ruled the skies. Being from a non-aviation family made it harder for him to be around planes and would only spend about three hours a month at the airport. He was so excited when he could drive by himself and the first thing he did with the license was get ice cream and go plane spotting for the entire day. When he has the time (and money) he likes to take spotting trips to any location worth a visit. He’s currently enrolled at Western Michigan University earning a degree in Aviation Management and Operations.

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