PROVINCETOWN — Cape Air won’t be offering flights out of the Provincetown Municipal Airport until April 1 because of a pandemic-related shortage of pilots as well as airport construction.
This is the first time in years that the airline has canceled its service for an extended period in Provincetown, where the airline started in 1989. Since Cape Air is the only carrier operating, there will be no commercial flights in or out of Provincetown from Jan. 19 through March 31. The airport will be open for private flights.
“This will be really inconvenient,” said Glenn Rigoff, who typically enjoys an easy commute between his Provincetown and Florida homes. “What a bummer. I will have to take the bus to Boston.”
Rigoff’s schedule lacks the burden of a daily commute since he earns his income from short-term rental properties he owns in Argentina, Boston, and Provincetown. He said he has a place in Florida where he spends a few months in the winter but returns to his primary residence in Provincetown every three weeks, especially if snow is in the forecast.
“If I see a real winter storm coming, I get my butt on a plane and come to Provincetown,” Rigoff said. “I love the snow. It makes me feel like a kid.”
Cape Air normally operates three flights a day each way between Provincetown and Boston at this time of year.
“We do not take this lightly,” said Charles Ferrara, the airline’s vice president of corporate and airport affairs. “We have been very committed to this route.”
Several factors forced the pause. One is an “industry-wide pilot shortage” as a result of Covid-19, Ferrara said. As Cape Air CEO Linda Markham explained in the Independent’s Jan. 6 issue, after major airlines furloughed employees during the pandemic, many pilots retired. When the big airlines started hiring again, Cape Air pilots jumped at the opportunity to take jobs there, Ferrara said.
Add to that the number of staff calling in sick because they have Covid-19 themselves. The normal complement of 90 pilots is now down by 10 to 15 percent, Ferrara added.
Rather than cancel flights at the last minute because of sick day call-ins, Cape Air managers decided to shut down the route while they recruit more pilots.
The timing is not as bad as it might have been: Provincetown Municipal Airport was to be closed anyway from Feb. 7 to Feb. 18 for construction, said Airport Manager Peter Kacergis.
“I know this does inconvenience a lot of people,” said Jim Abeln, a traveler who has used Cape Air often to travel for business. He is semi-retired now.
“For the people who just moved here, they expect to get out of here,” Abeln said.
Bus companies that take people to Boston have their own labor shortages, causing canceled runs, which, Abeln said, has left him stranded more than once.