OGDENSBURG – With 150-seat Allegiant jets expected to begin regular service to major Florida tourist destinations late next year, can flights to major hubs in New York City, Philadelphia or Chicago be far behind?
Airports in Bangor, Maine and Great Falls, Mont., provide some insight into what might be possible in St. Lawrence County. Both offer nine or 10 daily flights on 50- to 100-passenger jets to several major cities as well as service by Allegiant Air.
And both airports are located in counties two to three hours away from another major airport and have similar populations and geographic size as St. Lawrence County.
The Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority is planning to spend $47,000 to market its expanded airport to airlines that might provide more passenger and freight service. So far, they say it is too premature to predict how successful they will be.
But St. Lawrence County – with 111,944 people spread over 2,821 square miles, and a two- to three-hour drive from airports in Syracuse and Burlington, Vt. -- shares many similarities with the greater Bangor and Great Falls areas.
At Least 9 Daily Flights
Bangor International Airport provides at least nine daily flights to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. by American Airlines and to LaGuardia in New York City and Detroit by Delta.
Great Falls International Airport offers ten daily Delta, United and Alaska Air flights to Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Denver and Seattle.
Bangor is 128 miles or nearly two hours away from the nearest airport in Portland, Maine, according to Google estimates. Bangor, population 32,673, is located in Penobscot County, population 153,923. But Penobscot County covers 3,557 square miles, 26 percent more than St. Lawrence County’s 2,821 square miles.
Adding 26 percent to St. Lawrence County’s population – to account for residents in Malone, Brockville, Ont. and eastern Jefferson County where residents might consider Ogdensburg as a departure destination -- brings our total population to more than 160,000.
And while St. Lawrence County’s largest community, the Town of Potsdam, is barely more than half the size of Bangor – 17,029 – the population of Potsdam, Massena, Ogdensburg, Canton and Gouverneur combined is 58,999, nearly double the number in Bangor. After Bangor, the next-largest community in Penobscot County is Brewer, population 9,482, smaller than St. Lawrence County’s four largest municipalities.
Great Falls, with a population of 59,315, is roughly equal to the size of St. Lawrence County’s five major communities combined. But it is located in Cascade County -- at 2,711 square miles very similar in size to St. Lawrence County -- but with only 82,384 people in the entire region.
Great Falls is 165 miles or two hours, 42 minutes to the Missoula, Mont. airport and 185 miles or two hours, 50 minutes to the airport in Bozeman, Mont., according to Google.
By contrast, Ogdensburg is 128 miles or two hours 6 minutes from Syracuse and 171 miles or three hours, 28 minutes to the airport in Burlington. Massena is 163 miles or two hours, 46 minutes to Syracuse and 136 miles or two hours 49 minutes to Burlington.
Impact of Ottawa?
For St. Lawrence County, the wild card could be the effect of the nearby location of the Ottawa, Ont., international airport, located just 55 miles and one hour six minutes from Ogdensburg. Currently some St. Lawrence County residents drive to Ottawa instead of Syracuse or Burlington because it is at least one hour closer.
But those travelers also face several hurdles – a passport is required to cross the border and earlier-than-normal arrival times at the are sometimes necessary airport because flights to the U.S. are treated as international flights. And while the exchange rate currently favors U.S. travelers leaving from Canada, that situation could change over time.
Despite those issues, Allegiant is expected to draw some of its passengers from Canada. Not only would an Ogdensburg departure provide convenience for some, it will also offer direct service to Florida in about half the time as other airlines that require a change of planes and a layover at a major metropolitan airport.
Nearby Watertown is a similar distance from Ogdensburg as Ottawa – and only 66 miles and one hour 6 minutes north of Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport.
Still, Watertown leaders recently lured American Airlines to provide daily service that now departs for Philadelphia. For most of the year, 50-seat jets are used, but in the winter, 37-seat De Havilland Dash 8 Turboprops make the flights due to runway limitations.
Watertown is the population hub for Jefferson and Lewis counties with a combined population of 146,149. It is also home to Fort Drum that presumably creates a higher-than-normal demand for air travel due to soldiers traveling home when on leave.
Essential Air Service Subsidies
A further lure for Ogdensburg could by the $2.4 million in annual federal Essential Air Service funding that currently subsidizes three daily round-trip Cape Air flights to Albany on nine-seat airplanes. Massena receives $2.6 million for similar service.
In Watertown, $3.4 million in EAS funds previously used for Cape Air flights now subsidizes the daily service to Philadelphia instead.
Both Bangor and Great Falls do not receive EAS funding, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.