WATERVILLE — Paving the two runways at the city-owned airport would go a long way toward drawing a fixed-base operator — and more aircraft — to the facility.

Beyond that, increasing rates for hangar rental and other services, developing an airport marketing plan and partnering with restaurants and other area businesses to expand offerings are some smaller ways to help increase traffic and revenue.

Those were some of the recommendations made Tuesday night to city councilors by experts hired to help create a master plan for Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport.

Robert Mallard, president of Airport Solutions Group, of Woburn, Mass., and Nicholas Stefaniak, senior aviation planner for The Louis Berger Group, Inc. of Albany, N.Y., told councilors that the city’s airport has some great assets.

Those assets include location, a 5,500-foot-long runway and an instrument landing system that enables pilots to land safely in inclement weather when visibility is poor, they said.

“Not a lot of airports have that,” Mallard said.

The city has served as its own airport fixed-base operator, managing day-to-day operations since 2004, when the last official fixed-base operator left.

It has made money on the airport some years and lost money other years. It spends $70,000 to $80,000 a year to operate and maintain the airport, not including expenses related to the fixed-base operator side.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, the city spent more than $80,000 on maintenance and lost $38,000 on the fixed-base operator side, resulting in about a $126,000 loss, according to city records.

The airport is a base for UPS shipments, private aircraft and some commercial flights. People fly to Waterville to go to Colby College, particularly during commencement weekend and other special events, and the airport is used by business people, winter skiers, summer visitors and those who attend summer camp.

City Manager Michael Roy said the city has spent four years trying to develop a plan to help turn the airport around. The FAA requires airports wanting to get funding to have a master plan.

“Without this work, we would not get funded at our airport for capital improvement projects,” he said.

The airport’s shorter runway, now closed, is scheduled to be paved this summer at a cost of about $800,000, with the FAA funding 95 percent of the work and the city and state funding the rest, in equal amounts. The longer, 5,500-foot runway is expected to be paved in 2013-14, at a cost of about $8 million, with the same equation for funding.

Roy, Mallard and Stefaniak emphasized that there is no one way to turn the airport around — that it will require many different actions.

Given current economic conditions, many airports are struggling, according to Mallard.

In developing a master plan, he and Stefaniak looked at the airport’s existing facilities and inventory, financial records, management structure, environment and other aspects.

Stefaniak said most general aviation airports operate at a loss and the objective is to get to a break-even point — to become self-sufficient.

Compared to other airports in the region, he said, Waterville charges lower fees for landing and hangar fees and other services.

“Our recommendation is the city could raise the rates and still compete with other airports in the market,” Stefaniak said.

Mallard recommended the city put out requests for proposals to companies that offer fixed-base operator services and see what kind of interest they generate. He said he expects the city will get more interest from such companies when the runways are repaved. City Engineer Greg Brown, who manages the airport as one of his many jobs, agreed.

“The city is running this business, and we’re barely breaking even; and if we have two failed runways, we’re not going to.”

Roy said that for the FAA to fund the runway improvements, obstructions in the airspace have to be removed. The city must get permission and easements from landowners to cut trees, by May 1, he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]


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