Regular air service will begin next week, for the first time in several years, between southern and northern Maine.

Starting Tuesday, New England Air Transport will carry passengers between Portland and Frenchville, with requested stops in Augusta and Presque Isle. It will fly two round trips on Tuesdays and two round trips on Thursdays, and may expand service if there is demand for it, said David Fernald Sr., president of the company.

State and local officials plan to celebrate and christen the new service during a ceremony this morning at the Portland International Jetport.

Regular intrastate service ceased years ago, and the only way to fly to northern Maine – and avoid a five- to six-hour drive – has been to charter a flight or drive to Logan Airport in Boston.

“There is no way for folks to get from northern Maine to Southern Maine without driving,” he said. “It’s a major impediment to the conduct of business between the two ends of the state.”

New England Air Transport’s plane is a twin-propeller, 7-passenger Piper Chieftain. Fernald’s son, David Fernald Jr., is the company’s chief pilot and the pair have been operating a passenger charter service for two years.

The operation is based at the Northern Aroostook airport in Frenchville, which sits on the Canadian border next to Fort Kent.

Round-trip air fares start at $369 when purchased 14 days in advance and are comparable to the cost a business faces if it sends an employee the same distance by car, he said. A round trip will take about 3 hours by air, compared to more than 10 hours by car, according to the Fernalds. The service is similar to one that linked Portland and Presque Isle in the 1980s and ’90s. A different operator briefly revived the service about four years ago.

Fernald has surveyed business owners and other potential customers in southern and northern Maine and said he believes the service will attract passengers on both ends.

The plane will leave Frenchville at 5:30 a.m., stop in Presque Isle and arrive in Portland at 8 a.m., then return to Presque Isle at 10 a.m. The afternoon flight leaves Frenchville at 3:30 p.m. and departs Portland at about 6 p.m.

Along with business people who will be able to travel north for a day, northern Maine residents will be able to visit doctors in southern Maine much more easily, he said.

“We believe that that’s very important for our increasingly aging population because many of them find the long drive to be a burden; they would prefer to be in their own beds at night,” he said. “We’re finding very strong interest going both ways thus far.”

The company is selling tickets through its Web site, http://flyneat.com.

State and local officials are scheduled to help launch the ceremonial first flight at 9 a.m.

Gregory Hughes, marketing manager for the Jetport, said the service is a welcome addition. He also said he’s hopeful Fernald will expand the service over time.

“I’m pretty certain that David has done his homework and has enough people and businesses set up so he can make a profit,” Hughes said. “It’s at least a 10-hour drive, if you talk coming and going. This way, they can fly up in the morning and come back at night.”


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