BRUNSWICK — In the seven years since Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority took over the Brunswick Executive Airport, Executive Director Steven Levesque has courted more than a dozen aeronautic businesses and provided a base for 35 aircraft. Still, about one-third of the airport’s 650,000 square feet remains unused.

The airport is in the midst of a 10-year, $40 million investment program with the Federal Aviation Administration, Levesque said. The program funds improvements including runway lighting, a new $3 million hangar and safety upgrades. The goals is to make the airport, which was used by the U.S. Navy for about 60 years, suitable for civilian use, he said. In some cases that means insulating the hangar doors, installing radiant heating, making the restrooms ADA compliant and switching to energy-efficient lighting, all changes that Levesque called “significant spruce ups.”

Even with these adjustments, it can be hard to compete with the southern states when trying to draw new companies, in part due to New England’s harsh climate. Electric costs are higher in the Northeast and runways need to be cleared of snow. During a cold snap, it can cost up to $20,000 per month to heat a single hangar, split among the tenants, Levesque said.

The control panel of a Piper Arrow, one of the planes housed in Hangar six at Brunswick Executive Airport. HANNAH LACLAIRE / TIMES RECORD

Additionally, southern states can offer more business incentives, he said, adding that they are “more aggressive with economic development … they’ve chosen to make those investments.”

Southern states are also primarily Right-to-Work states, which means that “no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, nor to pay dues to a labor union,” according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. There are no Right to Work states in the Northeast, but Maine has a long history of debate over the topic.

It might be easier to draw non-aviation businesses to the space, but due to grant assurances, any companies leasing property at the airport must be related to the aeronautic industry. Other businesses can move in temporarily — a yacht company rents some space for storage during the winter months, for example — but there is a “kick out clause,” meaning that if an aircraft or drone-related business were to come in, it would be given priority and the other business might lose its lease.

There is also empty space in the form of the newer of the two air traffic control towers, Levesque said, adding that it would be ideal for a “special project company,” perhaps dealing in technology or cyber security. He’s trying to market the tower toward that purpose.  and that he is currently trying to market the tower as such. Until then, the tower remains vacant, but as it’s not being heated, the only cost is the insurance.

Despite some of drawing in business, the airport is still attractive to many businesses trying to break into the Northeast market. In Brunswick, pilots are within a one-hour flight from five major aviation hubs and closer to Europe, Levesque said.

“I’m working with a number of prospects for large aircraft maintenance,” he said. This week, he is going to the National Business Aviation Association trade show to promote the redevelopment authority and the airport.

The next project in the pipeline is an aviation technician school to assist the growing business in Brunswick, which according to Levesque, should be totally operational by August 2019.

So far, there are roughly a dozen aeronautic or drone-based businesses located at the airport, employing about 100 employees between them.

Since 2011 the airport has gone from being unused to seeing over 20,000 take-offs and landings per year.

We’ve seen double-digit growth,” since 2017, Levesque said, citing a 13 percent increase from this time last year.

John Favreau (left) and David Keen of American Classic Flying Club stand with a Cesna Cardinal 177. HANNAH LACLAIRE / TIMES RECORD

The space currently has three large hangars which together cover around 400,000 square feet, as well as a smaller T-hangar.

An smaller, 15,000-square-foot hangar is also in the works thanks to a $6.2 million grant from the FAA, a little more than half of which was dedicated to the hangar.

The newest of the hangars, hangar six, is large enough to hold six Boeing 737s, Levesque said, but currently houses about 20 smaller aircraft split between six companies which share it.

One of those is American Classic Aviation, an airplane maintenance company which also leases its aircraft to American Classic Flying Club, run by ACA owner David Keen. 

Keen still gets goosebumps when he thinks about sharing his love of flying with his students. Each time he is in the air, looking around at the mountains, oceans and forests he flies over, he is reminded that it could be his last and feels compelled to share the experience with others.

John Favreau, a certified flight instructor feels entirely present when flying, which is, he said, when he experiences true peace. Sharing that, he said, is a privilege.

American Classic Flying Club has been “off the ground” since March, using three Piper PA28-140 Cherokees among the roughly 17 club members. Of those members, about a half dozen are currently working on earning their private pilot certification.

That being said, Keen feels that no matter the level, “we are all students,” and that constantly learning is “what keeps us safe.”

David Keen, owner of American Classic Aviation and President of American Classic Flying Club, shows off a model plane he built when he was 10. HANNAH LACLAIRE / TIMES RECORD

In August and September, a cumulative 107 flights took off from American Classic Aviation’s two bays in Hangar 6.

The club leases its planes from ACA, and while they are not in it for the money, Keen said, the cost of renting the space ($3 per square foot and roughly 40,000 square feet in each bay), the cost to heat the hangar, maintenance and fuel for the planes all adds up. The initiation fee for the club is $1,200, then an additional $100 per month. Taking the planes in the air is another $120 per hour.

Many of the club members are older men who have always wanted to learn to fly but who did not have the means until later in life, but there are several young people as well. For example, Luke Welch completed his first solo flight on July 3 — his 16th birthday.

Keen, Favreau and Earle Harvey, another flight instructor, think more young people should try out flying to see if they enjoy it for their own private entertainment, or if they might be interested in pursuing it as a career.

“There’s a pilot shortage,” Keen said, adding that within the next decade airlines are going to need to hire more than 15,000 pilots. They also want to attract more women to the field.

“It’s a growth industry,” he said.

“We will think we know who (in the area) is interested in flying but then we always see new faces,” Keen said.

Currently, ACFC offers a 10 week introductory flying course, but with growing interest in the club, Keen and Favreau said they are considering exploring a flight school.

In the meantime though, they are continuing to build on their motto, “Yes, you can fly.”

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: