LEWISTON — A $1.3 million local investment could buy the Twin Cities regular air service to Washington, D.C., councilors were told Thursday.
Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport Manager Rick Cloutier said he has talked with Express Jet about establishing regular, twice daily round-trip service between Auburn and Dulles International Airport.
Tickets would cost about $111 one way, or $220 round trip. Flight service to Dulles would put the Twin Cities within one stop of 90 other air destinations, Cloutier said.
Cloutier briefed councilors from both Lewiston and Auburn at a special joint meeting Thursday on negotiations with regional air carriers and what the cities would need to do to make it happen.
He said an Express Jet deal would require a new terminal building, tighter security and a dedicated airport fire service — about $1.3 million in new spending.
Councilors in 2008 told airport officials they wanted to see regular passenger service flying out of Auburn. Officials commissioned a study that said that's an attainable goal and began talking to some small regional airlines. Those are small carriers that could establish regular flights twice daily to larger markets, like Boston or New York. From there, passengers could connect to 27 of the top 30 destinations for Mainers, according to the study.
Cloutier told councilors in April that the airport could establish that kind of service within a year, if an airline is interested.
Since then, he's talked to several regional carriers, including Express Jet. That's a regional airline that's part of United Airlines network, meaning that flights originating in Auburn could easily tie into United's other flights.
Lewiston Councilor Betty Dube said she was against the new spending, worried about environmental impacts from airport expansions.
"I'm disappointed about doing this when we have a perfectly good airport half an hour away," she said. She also doubted it would make economic sense.
"I could see people from the community using it, but I don't think it will bring people here from outside of community," she said.
But Lewiston Councilor Nelson Peters said he considers passenger air service in Auburn necessary.
"I honestly believe this is vital to Lewiston-Auburn's future growth," he said. "If you want any kind of real expansion, if you want a convention center, you need to have an airport. It's not going to happen unless you have it, and I think this area's growth over the next 20 years depends on it."