Regular passenger service returns to Hanscom

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / March 22, 2011

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A new airline is planning to start passenger service at Hanscom Field next month, the first carrier to offer regularly scheduled flights at the Bedford airport in more than three years.

Streamline Air LLC will operate two flights a day on 30-seat turboprop planes to Trenton-Mercer Airport in Trenton, N.J., about 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia, targeting business travelers with $600 round-trip tickets. Southwest Airlines and US Airways fly to Philadelphia out of Logan International Airport for as low as $200 round trip.

The flights are the first for the fledgling airline, owned by the Cleveland-based Charter Air Transport. The carrier officially launches April 4 and plans to add flights from Trenton to other small airports.

Hanscom, which is home to corporate jets, two-seat single-engine planes, and operators that provide on-demand air taxi and charter trips, hasn’t had commercial passenger service since Boston-Maine Airways quit flying the Bedford-Trenton route in early 2008. Streamline isn’t classified as a commercial carrier, but rather as a “public charter,’’ meaning passengers can book individual seats online at and travel as they would on any other passenger airline.

Streamline’s service is meant for business travelers on short flights who don’t want the hassle of major airports, said Mark Cestari, managing director of the airline. Cestari, of Newton, formerly worked for Shuttle America, which operated the same route at Hanscom from 1999 to 2004.

“You spend twice as much time on the ground as you do in the air,’’ Cestari said, of big airports. “If you’re trying to get 300, 400 miles away, the utility of flying has been greatly diminished by the parking situations, which are time consuming, and the long walks and the long check-in lines.’’

Trenton may seem an unlikely destination for business travel. But the central New Jersey and greater Philadelphia areas are strong in many of the same industries that drive the metro Boston economy: pharmaceutical and financial companies, universities, and research operations. Daniel Kasper, an aviation specialist at the economics consulting firm Compass Lexecon, said there should be a small but core market for such flights.

“I think it’s a very niche kind of an operation that takes advantage to a certain extent of the convenience of Hanscom for a lot of people in the western suburbs of Boston,’’ Kasper said.

Streamline is determined to succeed on a route where others have failed by having a smaller operation than Shuttle America, which flew 50-seat planes, and offering a more upscale experience than Boston-Maine, which had 19-seat aircraft and had no flight attendants. Streamline plans to offer complimentary cocktails and cheese plates.

“We’re trying to strike a balance between economy and customer comfort,’’ Cestari said.

Two round-trip flights a day isn’t a significant addition to Hanscom’s operations, which had nearly 2,500 business jets and turboprop planes fly in and out in January alone, said Barbara Patzner, airport director at Hanscom Field, which is operated by the Massachusetts Port Authority. But every little bit helps.

Local preservation groups argue that it isn’t good for the local environment, however.

Operations have been on the rise at Hanscom, with jet and turboprop flights up more than 6 percent last year compared to 2009, and Massport is planning to expand hangar space at the airfield to accommodate more aircraft. Anna West Winter, executive director of Save Our Heritage in Concord, said the expansion, and the new Streamline service, will adversely affect the nearby Minute Man National Historical Park and Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

“Allowing these scheduled turboprop operations to fly further increases the noise impact on the historic and natural resources that are already significantly impacted,’’ she said.

For its part, Streamline promises to be a good neighbor.

“We see this is a fairly small-scale operation well within the guidelines that have been set up,’’ Cestari said.

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at