Jacob Cook, Staff Writer, Maryland Coast Dispatch
OCEAN CITY, MD – A major regional air carrier this week confirmed a local partnership, but the town’s airport was quiet on Tuesday afternoon, the day scheduled service was supposedly going to restart between Ocean City and Baltimore after a four month hiatus.
After several trips to the resort’s municipal airport and lengthy negotiation talks, Cape Air, one of the country’s largest independent regional airliners based in Hyannis, Mass., has finalized a deal with Simmons Air, according to Cape officials. Rumors about the partnership have been heating up over the last several months, but it appears the joint venture was not official until the first week in February.
Cape Air spokeswoman Michelle Haynes said this week the resort has been on the company’s radar for some time because it mimics other areas where its service is already successful, but each discussion was fruitless until this year. Now, she says, the opportunity has knocked again and Cape Air will open the door to a new market.
“While I was away in Mexico, I believe it all happened. We’re very happy with it,” said Haynes. “Anytime you can introduce the Cape Air wings into a new market it’s a good thing.”
After 16 years in the business, Cape Air operates a fleet of over 50 aircrafts to destinations such as Florida, Boston, the Caribbean and South Pacific. (photo on right is "Daffy" decorated for Nantucket's Daffodil Weekend".) The company offers nearly 850 flights per day during the high season, carrying around 560,000 passengers nationally and internationally in a given year.
Second attempt to enter Ocean City Maryland market
The Simmons Air partnership marks the second attempt for Cape Air to break into the resort market. Airline officials met with the town in late 1999 and planned to add Ocean City to a new route it had opened between the Carolinas and Virginia. In 2000 though, the airline scrapped the unprofitable leg and with it the proposed Ocean City plan.
Haynes said the current agreement with Simmons Air calls for one airplane, two pilots and a maintenance employee. She said everything else is up to Simmons, including flight frequency, price, and advertising.
“We’re excited about it,” said Haynes. “This is the first time we’ve done a deal like this. As far as Cape Air’s part of it, we’re done.”
The agreement could not have come at a better time for Simmons Air, a local airliner originally offering flights between Ocean City Municipal Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) at the low cost of $45 each way.
After three years in the making, President/CEO Wayne Simmons was ready to introduce an alternative to dreaded beach traffic and long commutes between Maryland’s popular resort and largest city. The start-up business plan anticipated six aircrafts holding eight passengers each, running four round-trips a day beginning last May 1. However, after numerous delays Simmons Air missed the summer season and launched four months later in September. Then, a contractual disagreement with Hinson Corporate Flight Services grounded the business in November.
Nearly four months since the service stopped flying, Simmons Air has gained new life with the Cape Air pairing. In a recent press release, Simmons said an overhaul of the company is warranted to offer a premium service for customers. A one-way ticket between Ocean City and Baltimore will increase from $45 to $99. He attributes the 50 percent jump to soaring fuel costs since Hurricane Katrina and marketing surveys.
The Simmons Air-Cape Air partnership was slated to begin this week with operations up and running on Feb. 14, according to the Simmons press release. However, Tuesday was routinely quiet at the Ocean City Municipal Airport and the company was not offering flights.
George Goodrow, the town’s airport manager, said he has not seen a lot of activity from Simmons Air recently and was not aware when the business would continue service.
“I haven’t heard anything in particular,” he said.
Running a business with one airplane and two pilots, the extent of Cape Airs commitment, would be hard to do at three round-trips a day, Goodrow said.
“That’s going to be kind of tough with two pilots trying three runs a day,” said Goodrow.
Haynes said Cape Air is willing to increase planes and pilots depending on the initial success. She also said the company is slated to begin flying on March 1, despite a February prediction.
Simmons Air representatives were contacted for this article, but chose not to comment.
Read the previous story here.