NEW BEDFORD— A pair of propeller-powered planes parked on the runway behind Jon Mitchell on Wednesday. Another buzzed over the mayor’s head as he announced the game-changing impending arrival of commercial airlines at the city airport.
Propeller-power planes will be sharing runways with jet engines soon as the airport gained FAA 139 certification, opening its airspace to planes that can carry more than nine passengers.
“This is really a big triumph for the city and the region,” Mitchell said.
In order to obtain 139 certification, an airport needs a letter of intent from an airline to begin the process.
Airport manager Scot Servis confirmed one airline has committed to New Bedford, but wasn’t ready to state which one.
Once it’s official, Servis said flights should take off in about two months, then others could follow.
“A lot of airlines say 'Once you get your 139 inspection, give us a call. We’ll take a look,'” Servis said. “Not a lot like to jump out ahead because they know it’s a long process.”
For now, passengers should be able to count the flights per week on their hand.
Servis estimated at the start, there may be only one or two flights per week. The destination will likely be New York City where travelers can connect to locations across the country.
“We think that local businesses can gain an advantage and we can attract other businesses by having an airport that allows for convenient travel from New Bedford to New York, in particular, and beyond,” Mitchell said.
The current terminal includes a restaurant and offers Budget car rentals. As the airport becomes more popular, Mitchell envisions a new terminal.
More commercial airlines may be months away, but the certification, which began on July 1 should instantly increase the volume of air traffic.
The attraction lies in New Bedford’s lower landing fees and cheaper gas.
“That’s going to help the city because when we sell fuel we make money,” the chairman of the New Bedford Regional Airport Commission Paul Barton said. “In landing fees the city’s going to make money.”
The 139 certification attracts private planes because it lowers insurance rates for incoming transportation. New Bedford is now one of 22 airports in New England that possesses 139 certification.
The airport held the certification in the past but it lapsed in the 1990s.
Re-obtaining it required an update of the main runway.
“Once the main runway got resurfaced it really opened us up to doing more,” Servis said.
The FAA looked into every aspect of the airport, including how it ran during the day and night, scanned through its records, and examined its fire equipment.
The addition of more commercial flights also requires a TSA checkpoint, which has been constructed and awaits federal approval. The city had no doubt it would be federalized and labeled the 139 certification a much larger hurdle.
“It is more expensive to run a 139 airport because the level of maintenance that needs to get done is higher,” Servis said. “But it also means it’s safer and better.”
The expansion should be felt within the city’s economy too.
“The ability to fly commercial and private aircraft will help boom the economy locally,” president and CEO of SouthCoast Chamber Rick Kidder said.
“If you were trying to get over the bridges this weekend, you’ll greatly appreciate the proximity of the New Bedford Airport and our ferry services.”