Every summer the Nantucket Memorial Airport is bombarded with large commercial aircraft accommodating the summer tourists who wish to travel to the island, but view the boat as not being a feasible option for them. But come mid-October, the airlines end their services until early the following May and the only form of air travel is with smaller airlines such as Cape Air, which has been providing the service for decades.
Late last week a petition was started by Nantucket resident Sam Parsons asking JetBlue, which invests the most resources of any major airline on the Nantucket market during the summers with up to 10 flights daily on the weekends in July, to begin offering a year-round service with a flight from New York and/or Boston to Nantucket. It has already received over 400 signatures in the first two days.
“The request would be for an incoming flight to Nantucket on a Friday morning and an outgoing flight on a Sunday,” Sam Parsons said. “So many year-round residents would love the opportunity for a quick escape to the mainland and this would be an amazing opportunity for summer residents to make a visit to their homes in the offseason, long weekends, school breaks, etc.”
The obstacle, of course, is the significant decline in the island’s population from the summer months like July to winter months like January. But would JetBlue ever consider providing this service?
Nantucket Airport Manager Noah Karberg said these discussions have actually been had over the past several years, but he said the response from these seasonal airlines has been that they don’t believe there is a sustainable passenger market on the island to validate a decision to provide a year-round service.
“There are a few reasons for that,” Karberg said. “There are concerns that our offseason market isn’t big enough to fill 50-75 seats in each direction daily. That concern grows when an airline needs the same number of station employees in the winter but flies less-than-daily service instead of the 4-5 typical in the summer.”
Karberg said another major factor in these airlines not extending their services to year-round is risk.
“Airlines know they can make good returns on a corresponding winter beach or ski market,” Karberg said. “Crew and planes are limited, and it’s a risk for an airline to take away from an existing “slam dunk” of a route for an unproven one - even if it’s Nantucket.”
Karberg said where the airport has had some success over the past 5-10 years is working with these airlines to extend the summer seasons. Originally, many of the services would begin Memorial Day Weekend and end on Labor Day. But now, many airlines have begun services in early May and gone through Columbus Day Weekend.
Karberg wouldn’t rule out an extension of these services into December, however.
“There may be further room to extend into Stroll or the holiday season,” he said. “We also build those case studies as well. It’s an area where we love to hear community feedback.”
“However, I want the public to understand that air service development also involves retaining existing air service. In that respect, Cape Air commits to ACK in the winter season and has for decades. There’s a risk/reward in evaluating new opportunities versus promoting existing ones. It’s definitively a balance.”
JetBlue didn’t not immediately respond to the Current’s request for comment.