WATERVILLE — Renewed efforts to revitalize Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport are under way, with the appointment of a regional airport advisory committee and creation of an airport manager position.

The city also is applying for a federal grant to help reconstruct the cross-wind runway.

“There is definitely a push with this project,” City Manager Michael Roy said Friday. “Creating that position, having the committee in place and starting construction work, I think, means an increased focus on the airport.”

The city has struggled in recent years to keep the airport operating under difficult circumstances, not the least of which is that previous fixed-base operators, or businesses that handle day-to-day airport operations, have come and gone.

Last year, the theft of about 2,000 gallons of aircraft fuel from the city-owned airport prompted officials to review security, access and general management there and make changes. The theft case remains unsolved.

The city has acted as its own fixed-base operator since 2005, making money some years and losing it other years.

City officials see the airport as a potentially great economic development tool and since it serves as a base for UPS shipments, private aircraft and some commercial flights, the community would be worse off without it.

Former assistant airport manager Randy Marshall Jr., hired last May, has been named airport manager and the proposed municipal budget for 2012-13 increases his hours from part time to full time.

City councilors on Tuesday voted to appoint the Airport Advisory Committee to help with management of the airport and to make improvements there. The committee will meet with Marshall and city staff to review airport operations, help market and promote the airport and plan for capital improvements.

City councilors would make any final decisions regarding the airport.

Members of the 10-member committee are Mayor Karen Heck; councilors George Myers Jr., D-Ward 2, and Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3; Central Maine Growth Council Executive Director Darryl Sterling; and Mark Gosline, Charles Giguere, Tom Munson, Brad Fisher, Steve Collins and Paul Boghossian. Ex officio members, or those who have no voting rights, are Marshall, Public Works Director Mark Turner, who is airport supervisor, and City Engineer Greg Brown.

Sterling said Thursday that the committee is scheduled to meet in the next few days. He said he hopes to discuss how to fully use the airport as an economic resource for Waterville and surrounding communities.

Sterling sees the airport as a great resource, not only because of its location and desirable runways, but also for its tax increment financing district, Airport Industrial Park and potential to draw businesses there, he said.

“We’ll be looking at other airport success stories — economies of scale; looking at a handful of those such as in Lewiston-Auburn, some in other states, looking at what to do about an FBO,” Sterling said. “I think this will be a true economic resource for the region. I’m looking forward to working with the team.”

Councilors on Tuesday also voted to apply for an FAA grant to reconstruct the airport’s cross-wind runway.

The FAA would fund 90 percent of the project cost, expected to be about $800,000, according to Roy. The city’s share is 7.5 percent, or about $80,000; and the state would fund 2.5 percent, Roy said.

The city last year applied for a grant to reconstruct the cross-wind runway but the FAA did not award the grant because of high bid prices and tree obstruction issues, according to Brown.

But the state Department of Transportation and FAA have programmed money to allow the project to move forward this construction season.

Roy said the airport’s major runway will probably be improved in 2015.

“That will require major allocation by the city at that point in time,” Roy said. “So, financially speaking, that’s going to be a difficult thing for us to do — but that is three years away.”

Marshall said at a recent municipal budget meeting that all but one of the trees creating a problem for the cross-wind runway construction project had been removed.

Marshall favors hiring more staff for the airport.

“That would allow us to extend our hours of operation to compete with other airports and may generate other revenue streams,” he said.

The airport is staffed 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., whereas other airports generally are staffed 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., he said.

Some councilors were all for spending more money for staffing to make the airport more viable.

“We have an airport that’s a great asset — we need to put money into it,” said Councilor Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6.

The airport has two runways, two city-owned buildings and several privately owned hangars. The city spends $70,000 to $80,000 a year to operate and maintain the airport and that does not include expenses related to the fixed-base operator side. In the fiscal year that ended last June 30, the city spent more than $80,000 on maintenance and lost $38,000 on the fixed-base operation side, resulting in about a $126,000 loss.

Airport Solutions Group, of Woburn, Mass. developed a master plan for the airport to assess its potential and make recommendations. The city must have such a plan in order to get federal funding for projects.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

 

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.