Officials Forecast Expanded Air Traffic

By JOSHUA SABATINI

The Martha's Vineyard Airport, with another summer season at hand, is ready to handle the projected increase in air traffic and would like to see even more.

Shortages in fuel supply are not expected this season. A new fuel farm, with a capacity of 60,000 gallons, has recently begun operation. Fuel trucks come to the Island by barge, empty their supply in the farm's tanks, and trucks from the farm head out to fill up planes on the paved strip.

Colin Ewing, the manager at Cape Air, said, "There were times when the airport ran out of fuel. We do most of our fueling on the Vineyard, so it really impacts us whenever it runs out. Now there is one less thing to worry about."

William J. Weibrecht, airport manager, reported that fuel sales are up 1 to 2 per cent for the first part of the year, "which is very good because the price of fuel is going up and the Island's fuel costs are high."

The airport, which services Boston, Providence, Hyannis, Nantucket and New Bedford year-round, adds to its major city routes New York city, Newark, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and White Plains, N.Y., for the summer. The airport will be running a service similar to last year's. Mr. Weibrecht said adding Providence to its route last year has been a "big bonus," and bookings that surpass a plane's capacity will be accommodated by flying out additional available planes for any scheduled flight.

Mr. Weibrecht said he has noticed a slight increase in air traffic on the weekends compared to last year, a trend he doesn't mind seeing at all. "We want to increase service at the airport and improve it for all year. The capacity is still there, and we want to take advantage of serving the Island."

Boston-Maine Airways, a subsidiary of Pan American Airways, is the sole new service to the Island airport. The airline has begun making morning, midday and afternoon cargo trips to the airport and would like to expand into passenger service by the end of the first week in June. The passenger service, if approved by the FAA, would provide year-round flights from White Plains, Worcester and New Bedford.

At an airport looking to expand its services, the new airline is more than welcomed into the family. Tim Carroll, chairman of the airport commission, said: "I am excited about the new Pan Am service - you may soon be able to buy a ticket here and fly to Puerto Rico."

Mr. Weibrecht, always looking for ways to improve operations, said he would like to extend off-season operating hours of the control tower. The tower is usually open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. from May to October, and from 7 a.m. through 5 p.m. in the off-season. Planes can land and takeoff at the airport at anytime.

Last year, Cape Air operated 47 nine-seat Cessna 402s, and the airline has added to their fleet three planes of the same model.

This holiday weekend will bring a large boost in passenger demand, a fine introduction to the summer months. Mr. Ewing said the airline will be running four planes every hour, "quadruple sections," from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to handle the Memorial Day weekend rush. Last year, over the three-day holiday, the airline was running two to three planes every hour. The airline's primary routes are Boston, Providence and New Bedford. "The numbers of passengers served are typical, right up there with last season - they might be a hair bigger. We are going to run everything at a maximum this Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday," Mr. Ewing said. Seats on the airline's holiday weekend flights may be hard to come by at this point - many flights are booked solid - but there may be a few empty seats with last-minute cancellations.

U.S. Air Express is no longer flying direct to White Plains, N.Y., but the airline is continuing its service to Boston, Hyannis, New York city and Philadelphia. U.S. Air Express station manager Richard Kocian said he expects the number of passengers serviced will remain mostly the same. "We are at capacity for most of the flights scheduled every year, so it is a function of how many planes we have," said Mr. Kocian.

With the present lack of the White Plains service, the first quarter statistics - January through March - show a decline in the number of passengers boarding planes at the airport. In 2000, 5,648 passengers took off from the Island airport during this time, while in 2001 the numbers fell to 5,092. Overall, there was a jump in service last year, from 65,746 passengers in 1999 to 66,154 in 2000. Both sets of numbers reflect air traffic during the hours when the tower was open.

Some basic changes made to the airport will make flying more enjoyable. Visitors and Islanders who were annoyed in previous years by the slow road traffic at the airport may see a change with the new parking system implemented last year and the expanded hours of police patrols to keep it moving. The landscaping around the buildings will be kept up more efficiently after new tractors are purchased, and improvements to the terminal interior are almost complete. By the summer season, on land and in the air, the airport will be operating on a grander scale.