A plane approaches the only runway at the Wiscasset Airport, which hasn’t been repaved since the 1960s. It will soon be rehabilitated thanks to a $3.2 million federal grant. Photo courtesy of Rick Tetrev

WISCASSET — The Wiscasset Municipal airport received $3.2 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Improvement Program, which will be used to repave the airport’s only runway.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, announced the award Monday. Wiscasset is one of five Maine airports to receive the funding, but Wiscasset took over half of the total of $6,121,002 award from the improvement program.

The Portland International Jetport received the next largest award of $2.2 million to rehabilitate the taxiway. The Augusta State Airport was given $300,000 to update the airport’s master plan, the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport received $190,406 to rehabilitate the airport apron and the Bethel Regional Airport received $75,000 to remove obstructions from the property.

“Just like airports around the world, Maine airports are struggling to make ends meet given the sharp downturn in passenger traffic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Collins said in a statement issued Monday. “These investments in airport infrastructure will help ensure that airports across the state will continue to serve as engines of job creation and essential pieces of our transportation network after this crisis has passed.”

Located about four miles south of downtown Wiscasset, the Wiscasset Airport is owned by the town and caters to mostly smaller, private planes used by recreational or business flyers. The facilities can also accommodate medical evacuation flights.

The original runway at the Wiscasset airport was built in 1961 shortly after the town purchased the land in 1957. At the time it was only 2,800 feet long, but it was later lengthened to 3,400 feet in 1968, according to town records.

“Our runway is old and we’ve been working for several years to get that replaced,” said Rick Tetrev, manager of the airport. “It’ll be wonderful to have that fixed, now the question is whether we can get it done within the calendar year.”

Tetrev said he thinks a restored runway will bring new business to the airport, which he estimated has seen a 67% drop in business since the coronavirus touched down in Maine, but he’s hopeful things will turn around this summer.

“In the summer we average about 1,000 flights per month,” said Tetrev. “In the winter we get about 200 flights per month.”

This month the airport has seen 97 flights, according to Tetrev.

The airport generates the majority of its revenue from leasing its 35 airplane hangars and selling jet fuel, which has proven to be a good business model for the airport, Tetrev said. In the summer, those airplane hangars are full.

“We try to get all the funding we can through the [airplane hangar] leases, and we’re usually pretty successful,” said Tetrev. “We’re pretty much self-sufficient.”

Over the last four years airport has earned an average of $235,000 annually and spent about $225,000, according to Tetrev’s records.

“The airport struggled back before those hangars existed, but since then it has made great strides in being financially solvent,” said Steve Williams, chairman of the Wiscasset Airport Advisory Committee. “Years ago we were operating in the red and were seen as a burden on the town. Now, we pay our own way.”

While the Wiscasset airport is just 15 miles, or a 25-minute drive, away from the Brunswick Executive Airport, Williams said both are equally important to the area and not necessarily in competition because “the two airports serve a different clientele.”

“Brunswick serves larger jet traffic, and the Wiscasset airport is more tailored to smaller, privately owned aircraft,” said Williams.

Once the runway is repaved, Williams said the Wiscasset Airport Advisory Committee is looking at the possibility of having a solar farm built on the airport’s land, which would generate an estimated $50,000 to support airport operations. He said the solar array would be similar to the one at Brunswick Landing, which holds over 4,500 solar panels, generating 1.5 megawatts of power. While a solar farm could be a lucrative next step, he said his first priority is ensuring the runway is repaved in a timely manner.

“This paving project is badly needed,” said Williams. “Getting this taken care of will go a long way to strengthen the airport for years to come.”

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