AUGUSTA — City councilors said the Augusta State Airport is crucial for the area but the city will no longer be able to run the airport to current standards for the amount of money the state is willing to provide.

While the state and city are operating under a one-year extension of a five-year deal in which the state, which owns the airport, pays the city $550,000 to staff and operate it, there is apparently no plan B if the city declines to extend that agreement beyond this year.

Airport Manager John Guimond, a city employee, said he asked the state official who oversees airports, Peggy Duval, what would happen if the city decides it will no longer manage the airport.

“She really didn’t have an answer,” Guimond told city councilors Thursday. “I think the state has been so pleased with how we’ve been managing it, I don’t think there is a backup plan if we don’t manage it.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said since 2008 the state has paid the city $550,000 a year to manage the airport, which has commercial flights provided by Cape Air and fixed base operations including charter flights and services for private pilots provided by Maine Instrument Flight.

In negotiations this year, state officials said the state cannot afford to increase that amount.
And Bridgeo said the city, while expected to break even this year, will not be able to maintain and run the airport for that same $550,000 in the future because of increasing expenses.

“It has become clear that $550,000 is not enough to do that at the level of service the state expects, the fixed based operator, Maine Instrument Flight, expects, that the public expects,” Bridgeo said. “Our working relationship with the state is terrific — I think they’re trying as hard as they can but they’re hard up against it too, as far as money goes. But that doesn’t fix our problem.”

He said that he can’t allow a deficit that would mean the city paying for airport operations from the general fund. “I think you would rightfully hold my feet to the fire if I did that,” he told the council.
Councilors said the airport is crucial for the area’s economy.

“It’s obvious to most everybody that a viable, growing airport is of tremendous importance to us in central Maine,” said Councilor Michael Byron.

Increased costs at the airport include fuel to heat buildings and to power trucks and equipment, and replacing expensive parts on pieces of heavy equipment, Guimond said.

In response to increasing costs, the airport has cut staff, eliminating a maintenance position and reducing a clerical position to part-time, bringing the number of full-time airport staff to three.

Guimond said they may be able to reduce costs if the airport can operate on a reduced level of certification. He also said the airport may be able to save money when leases with airport users, such as Maine Instrument Flight, are renewed. New leases could require that the city provide fewer services.

In the meantime, the airport’s new commercial carrier, Cape Air, has been bringing a major increase in passengers to the airport since taking over for previous carrier Colgan Air last year.

Guimond said since Cape took over it has flown 1,563 more passengers than Colgan did last year in the same time period.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]