A rainbow covers the Pittsfield Municipal Airport following a rain shower in 2015. Pittsfield is applying for a grant to build a new hanger at the airport. Morning Sentinel file

The Pittsfield Municipal Airport has completed a variety of safety-related renovations in recent years, bringing the airport increasingly close to its goal of constructing a town-owned hangar there. 

The airport, also known as Curtis Field, has undergone extensive updates in the last 14 years largely funded by grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, according to Pittsfield Town Manager Kathryn Ruth. The town has received well over $5 million in grants for various airport projects since she started in the role in 2002, Ruth said.  

“We love the airport, so we are glad everything has worked out really well,” Ruth said. “When I arrived here, we needed to do a lot of work. So it’s 20 years later, and it’s just amazing what has been done and how it’s been turned around.” 

The Pittsfield Municipal Airport is one of Maine’s 23 general aviation airports — which are owned by a nonprofit entity or a town. It was originally a horse track, and has been run as an airport since the 1940s. 

Now, the main project in the works is a six-bay T hangar, which would be owned by the town. The space would be rented out to store aircrafts. The town is looking to start construction as costs continue to increase over time. 

“The state of Maine, the FAA and the town realized if we don’t do the hangar now, in two or three years nobody will be able to afford it the way things are going,” Ruth said. 

The state government provided an additional $245,000 to the project this year, a move Ruth called “miraculous.” The total cost of the hangar will be around $1.3 million, and the town has applied for a multi-year FAA grant that would cover a substantial portion of the costs — although the exact amount depends on when the grant is officially awarded. 

If the grant is awarded this year, the town would not actually have to spend any money on the hangar, as the grant and state funding would cover the total cost. If the grant is awarded next year, it is possible the town would have to cover up to 5% of the cost of the hangar — it all depends on the federal rules for the grant. 

“Right now, the funding is 100% federal, next year it may go back to its regular schedule which can be 90% federal, 5% state and 5% town — or it could be 2.5% for the town and the state and then 95% for the federal government,” Ruth said. “We don’t know what it will be for next year. But at least right now it’s 100%, everything is paid for by the federal government.” 

However, because it is a multi-year grant, even if it covers the full cost of the hangar, the town would need to borrow money from the Pittsfield Economic Expansion Corporation (the town’s 501(c)(3) or nonprofit entity) to cover the upfront costs of construction — something they have done in the past. That money would later be reimbursed by the grant. 

And even if Pittsfield needs to pay for a portion of the hangar, the town has money set aside for this project, Ruth said.  

If the cost to the town is deemed to be too high, the plans could be adjusted to build a four-bay hangar instead, Ruth said. Pittsfield can submit the grant application now without having a final decision on the size.

That change could technically be made at any time in the process, but would likely happen before accepting a final bid for construction. 

There was a previous hangar that the town owned back in the 1950s, Ruth said, but that was sold a while ago to Curtis Air, which serves as the airport’s fixed-base operator. 

While the town does not currently own a hangar at the airport, the town leases land to other companies that build and own hangars at the site. The town charges the companies for the lease of land, excise tax for the airplanes and property tax on the hangars bringing in revenue for Pittsfield — around $22,000 per year. 

The airport is quite busy, and always attracting new businesses, Ruth said. Cianbro, a Pittsfield-based construction company, was approved this month to build a hangar at the airport and Curtis Air is also in the process of building a new hangar.  

“The airport is a lot busier than people think,” Ruth said. “When people drive down the parking spaces are all filled; people are out in their planes, lots of businesses have their planes there. I hear the planes flying over my house at 5:30 in the morning — I’m under the flight path.” 

All of the hangar space at the airport now is full, Ruth said, and Curtis Air operates a mechanical shop that draws a lot of pilots to the area.  

The town has also submitted a second grant application to the FAA for renovations on the taxiway, which would be around $245,000.  

A variety of projects have been completed to update the airport and make this new construction possible. The runway had to be rehabilitated, and so did the apron — the area where aircraft are parked, loaded and maintained. 

There was also trees and other plant life that had to be trimmed back. And since the airport is near wetlands, that could only be done in the winter after the area was fully frozen.  

Lights and windsocks, which help designate the runways for landing pilots, were also updated. 

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