Saturday, March 8, 2014
BRUNSWICK -- The taxiway and twin runways that cover more than 700 acres here were empty on Wednesday. The only sound was wind whipping across the vast open space; the only human presence was crew of electricians fixing lights at a distant windsock.
But standing in front of the vacant flight tower, Steve Levesque could imagine the sound of corporate jets landing, and could envision student pilots waiting to fly on the taxiway.
"We'd like to see up to 80 takeoffs and landings a day," he said.
Executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, Levesque and his team have been completing tasks to prepare a military airfield for civilian life.
Saturday was opening day at Maine's newest airport -- Brunswick Executive Airport. Officials and politicians attended a public celebration at 1 p.m., and watched the landing of the first private airplanes.
It was a high-profile transition from BNAS -- Brunswick Naval Air Station -- to BXM, the Federal Aviation Administration's new identifier for Brunswick Executive Airport.
It will give southern Maine an unprecedented aviation resource: a complex with 8,000-foot runways, 650,000 square feet of hangar space and varied offices that are part of an evolving, high-tech business and education campus called Brunswick Landing. Consultants working for the redevelopment authority say it would cost $2 billion to build a similar complex today.
Brunswick Executive Airport is within commuting distance of one-third of the state's population and within reach of more than one-fifth of the country's general aviation aircraft.
As it turns out, the airport's scale and its location are both an asset and a challenge.
The giant, well-maintained facility offers incredible potential for attracting business. But the complex also must generate enough revenue to maintain the long runways, 103 acres of taxiways and parking, and a trio of hangar buildings that could hold multiple football fields. The current operating costs are estimated at $750,000 a year.
Brunswick is an easy drive to Maine's population centers. But because it's only 30 miles from Portland International Jetport, the airfield is too close to host scheduled, commercial air service.
That mean BXM must position itself as a general aviation airport, but with a difference. More than an airport, it's an industrial site that can host businesses that make and repair aircraft, as well as other aviation service providers.
That effort is off to an encouraging start. Start-up airplane maker Kestrel Aircraft Co. is setting up shop to build a small passenger plane. A prototype of the carbon composite, turbo prop aircraft now stands in Hangar 6.
Eventually, Kestrel hopes to have 300 workers, which would contribute to a broader goal of the redevelopment authority - replacing the jobs and economic activity that flew away with the Navy. Levesque said he has signed leases with businesses that can fill 600 of the 700 civilian jobs at the former Navy base.
The next step is to expand area business activity to generate $140 million a year, equal to the payroll when 5,000 people were involved with the base. The long-term goal is a complete redevelopment of the base, a process that may take decades.
For now, though, the redevelopment authority is focused on getting out the word about the new airport, through trade associations, industry gatherings and the FAA network. It will hold a Business Aviation Expo in August, in conjunction with the Great State of Maine Air Show.
Officials also are lobbying for passage of a bill in the Legislature to repeal a hefty tax on visiting aircraft that remain in the state more than 20 days. That's essential for maintenance companies to consider Maine, and for attracting more pilots.
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