Cape Air Stops Service to Providence Earlier Than Planned: Columbus Day

Gazette Senior Writer

Cape Air will suspend service between the Vineyard and Providence after Columbus Day this year, rather than flying the route through Thanksgiving, its president said, but the airline also is considering new discounted off-season fares targeted at Vineyard residents.

The moves come following a summer in which the number of passengers boarding Cape Air flights at the Martha's Vineyard Airport slid 4.4 per cent. From June through August, more than 20,000 passengers boarded Cape Air flights to various destinations, down 920 from the same period last year.

Cape Air is by far the largest commercial carrier serving the Vineyard airport.

President Dan Wolf said that while Vineyard volume on the Providence and New Bedford routes have fallen, traffic on the Vineyard-Boston route has gradually risen about 5 to 6 per cent from July 2000 to July 2006.

Mr. Wolf said Cape Air has seen a dip in the past year or so on its Vineyard-New Bedford and Vineyard-Providence routes.

In partial reaction, the airline plans to seasonally suspend its Vineyard-Providence service sooner this year than planned.

Mr. Wolf calls service to and from the Vineyard a strong but mature market. While he expects volume to continue to grow, he also anticipates that Cape Air will try to boost business in the market further with discounted off-season fares targeted at Vineyard residents.

Airport manager Sean Flynn said the number of people boarding regularly scheduled commercial flights at Martha's Vineyard Airport in June through August fell by 5.8 per cent, or just over 1,500 passengers. The number includes passengers boarding Cape Air and U.S. Air flights.

At the Vineyard airport, Mr. Flynn said, scheduled commercial carriers boarded just over 25,000 passengers between June and August. Compared with last summer, volume was up for July but down in June and August.

Cool, rainy weather and higher fuel costs likely cut into air travel to the Vineyard, Mr. Flynn said. He said the lower numbers also likely reflect a slight decline in the overall Cape and Islands economy.

Mr. Flynn said passenger volume on unscheduled commercial flights using the airport are about even, with the traffic in smaller private general aviation aircraft down slightly.

On the water, the Steamship Authority, the primary carrier of people to and from the Island, reported carrying about 4,600 fewer people on its Vineyard route for the combined months of July and August - a decline of .7 per cent.

Several private ferry companies also reported lower or flat volumes for service to and from the Vineyard in July, the most recent month for which the statistics were available, according to information from the Steamship Authority, which licenses them.

SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said he wants to review more recent reports from the private ferry companies to gauge whether the entire Vineyard passenger market is down, or just the Authority portion.

On the Woods Hole-Vineyard route, the boat line carried over 321,000 passengers for July, down .8 per cent compared with July 2005. In August, the boat line carried over 329,000 passengers, down .7 per cent.

Through the first eight months of the year, the boat line carried nearly 1.5 million passengers on the route, about the same as last year.

Passenger volumes on the boat line continue to hover around levels last seen in the late 1990s, down slightly from peaks reached in the early 2000s.

New England Fast Ferry, which carries passengers between New Bedford and the Vineyard, saw its ridership for July decline 6.2 per cent.

Hy-Line, which operates passenger service between Oak Bluffs and Hyannis, was off 5.5 per cent in July from last year in July overall. Ridership is up on the high-speed ferry Lady Martha, and down on the conventional ferry operated by Hy-Line.

Falmouth Ferry Service, which operates the Pied Piper between Falmouth and Edgartown, saw just 12 fewer people ride the vessel in July compared with last year.

As for the Steamship Authority, overall passenger traffic (including the Hyannis-Nantucket route) was off 1.3 per cent in July, off .1 percent in August, and down .2 per cent for the first eight months of the year.