The 12-foot tall fisherman statue in Eastport stands up against a cold December day in 2016. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

When you’re the easternmost city in the U.S., the rest of civilization can feel pretty far away. But Eastport is working to make things a little closer, nine seats at a time.

Hoping to attract more tourism and make it easier to shepherd its aging population to major medical centers, Eastport officials last week approved a plan to pursue a small regional airline to make flights between Portland and the Down East city’s small airport.

If achieved, it would be the first time Eastport has ever had regular passenger plane service.

“We have a lot of people that move here, and they’d like their family to come visit, but who wants to drive all the way from Bangor,” said Eastport airport manager Steve Trieber.

Right now, people have to drive to Bangor or Bar Harbor for flights, both of which are more than two hours away.

The City Council voted Dec. 14 to hire a consultant to help the municipality apply for a federal grant designed to bring air service to rural communities. Trieber said the hope is to get an airline, such as Southern Airways Express, that flies nine-seat planes to make regular flights to and from Portland.

In addition to making it easier for tourists to get to Eastport, it would provide residents with a quicker way to get to southern Maine and connect to other flights across the country.

“We would have access to specialized hospitals, physicians and rehabilitation centers that are normally reserved for residents of larger cities,” said Ron DeFilippo, a member of the city’s airport advisory committee.

For years, the airport has watched small charter planes land on its single-runway. The lack of regular air service has made tourist visits to Eastport only accessible to those who want to drive for hours — it’s an approximately five-hour trek from Portland — or have the means to charter their own plane. In the height of summer, the airport only sees about three planes landing a week.

But it has aspirations for more.

Its runway was recently redone, it’s scheduled to get a new weather station and there are hopes for a new terminal building in the future.

The city tried and failed in 2021 to get money through the federal Small Community Air Service Development Program to bring Cape Air, another airline that already flies small single-propeller planes into the Bar Harbor airport, which is actually in Trenton.

But new funding opportunities are expected to open up in January and officials felt better about Eastport’s chances now that it’s a known entity to the grant funders.

 

This has created an atmosphere of excitement in the city, according to Trieber.

“Around the community, I hear all the time, ‘When’s the airline going to start,’” he said. “There’s a lot of hope for it.”