A plane sits waiting for a pre-flight inspection in one of the large hangars at Brunswick Executive Airport. (Photo courtesy of American Classic Aviation)

BRUNSWICK — In a normal year, officials at the Brunswick Executive Airport would be busy preparing for the Great State of Maine Airshow, which would have brought nearly 30,000 onlookers to Brunswick Landing and added hundreds of landings and takeoffs to the airport’s annual tally. 

This year promised to be a big one for the airport, which even without air shows, has seen steady year-over-year growth of about 12 to 15%, according to Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Association, which oversees redevelopment efforts at Brunswick Landing — the former Brunswick Naval Air Station — and Brunswick Executive Airport.

Instead, with the air show canceled due to statewide gathering restrictions and national and regional travel significantly curtailed by coronavirus concerns, officials are resigned to a year of quieter skies. 

“With COVID, some of our biggest flying months have been impacted,” Levesque said. “We expect to be down 30% from last year, but you don’t know. Is it going to get worse? Is it going to get better?” 

Jim Nall, airport manager and manager of fixed-based operator Flight Level Aviation, agreed.

“March through June was pretty dead as far as air traffic goes because nobody was traveling,” Nall said, bringing the operations (essentially takeoffs and landings) to a near standstill.

Fuel sales, which Nall said are generally closely tied to air traffic, are also about 40% off for the year. 

As restrictions have lifted air travel has started to pick back up, and he estimated operations figures for June and July are closer to 70% of normal.

“People are coming to their summer homes now and vacationing,” Levesque said, and the flight schools are able to start running again, which makes up a large portion of the operations. 

Despite continuing troubles in the aviation industry in general, Levesque said the approximately 15 aviation-related businesses in Brunswick Landing and TechPlace are holding steady, and preparations are underway to sign a lease with another small flight school. 

About 50 based aircraft call the airport home and there are just about 65,000 of 400,000 square feet of hangar space available. 

Though there are some conversations in the works about potential new businesses, Levesque said the pandemic really hurt usual business attraction methods. 

“We were slated to go to a number of big trade shows in the Spring which we rely a lot on, and we weren’t able to do that, and we probably won’t do it in the fall either,” he said, adding that they have made a push for internet marketing. 

Efforts to attract an aviation technician school, something Levesque previously hoped to have running by last August, are underway, but have slowed. 

“We’re still chipping away at it,” he said. 

According to Nall, Brunswick Executive Airport is an ideal spot for aeronautic businesses, with the facilities leftover from the navy, large runway and ramp space and large hangars, “which you don’t see a lot of in the Northeast.” 

“There’s a good growing opportunity here,” he said. 

In November, the airport surpassed the number of flight operations (22,847) the active-duty Naval Air Station had in 2005, the last year all the base quadrants were fully operational and finished the year with roughly 25,000 takeoffs and landings.   

Last week, Sen. Susan Collins announced nearly $300,000 for the airport to continue runway, lighting and utility improvements as part of a $3.5 million statewide airport improvement program. This will compound the work accomplished through the 10-year $40 million Federal Aviation Administration Military Airports program, which aims to bring former military bases up to current civil standards. That initiative began in 2011. 

Levesque and Nall are both hoping that with some new businesses, they can continue to see the growth they did before the pandemic. 

Like everyone else, “we’re trying to figure out what the future looks like,” Levesque said.

Comments are not available on this story.