For those with access to a private aircraft, flying in and out of Brunswick just got a lot easier.
The Brunswick Executive Airport (BXM) officially opened for civilian use on April 2, replacing part of the Naval Air Station Brunswick (NASB) that is slated to close on May 31 of this year.
"It's a great asset for the region," said Executive Director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA) Steve Levesque. "I think the fact that Bowdoin now has an airport like Colby, Bates and the University of Maine will allow people—be it parents, speakers, trustees or administrations—to come here more conveniently."
Indeed, the first Bowdoin parent has already landed. Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley confirmed that one parent flew into BXM on Sunday.
"I would imagine that there would be instances for people that want to come to Bowdoin or Brunswick and have access to small aviation planes," said Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood. "It's an advantage for them to land here rather than Portland."
The idea of opening a civilian airport using the former NASB runways was well-received in the Brunswick community. According to Levesque, a 2007 survey showed that 80 percent of local respondents hoped a private airport was in Brunswick's future.
"We had a series of community visioning sessions where the community defined what they would like to see for the property," said Levesque. "They wanted to see an airport."
"I've been waiting for something like this to happen; this is really a culmination of 25 years of waiting to be able to use it," said Brunswick resident Stephen White, who flew in his Cessna-140 on BXM's opening day.
Kestrel Aircraft Company and various other corporations will use the airport. Levesque estimated that the annual operating cost for the airport would be approximately $750,000.
Peter Eichleay '04 runs FlightLevel Aviation, which will serve as the fixed based operator of the Brunswick Executive Airport. FlightLevel is located in Norwood, Mass.
"We do all the refueling, hangar leasing and rentals to transient and based aircraft. We also provide general concierge services, passenger lounges, pilot crew lounges, and other basic service," said Eichleay, who flew in his CIRRUS SR22 to commemorate the opening event.
"Last Saturday was in large part a testament to all the work [Levesque] and his team and the Flight Level team put in to making this airport happen and making it assessable to everyone," he added.
According to Levesque, the airport will try to replenish the job market that was greatly diminished with the closing of NASB.
"When the naval base was here, there were 5,000 people working," said Levesque. "That has had a significant economic impact on the community and the state."
However, the airport has created thousands of new jobs and Levesque said he hopes "to help grow Maine's aerospace industry."
The airport will help stimulate local businesses in a more subtle way as well.
"We want to become a fueling port for jets going overseas," said Eichleay. "When [jets] stop over, they're going to be renting cars and going into town to local restaurants and checking out shops, so it certainly will help provide a residual boost to the local economy."
According to Hood, the College supports the economic opportunities that the new airport will create.
"From the College's official point of view, anything that improves the local economy and helps redevelop [the NASB] area is a positive thing as far as we're concerned," said Hood. "It's a wonderful opportunity to build something that will move the community forward."
Hood also noted that the new airport is not something the College is advertising, though BXM's grand opening was featured on the Bowdoin Daily Sun and will appear in the next alumni magazine.
"Certainly it will be mentioned to folks because we do have trustees, we do have parents, we do have alumni who are coming to Brunswick for whatever reason," said Hood, "and if there's an opportunity to fly to a local airport, that would be great."
Like Levesque, Eichleay is excited about potential business opportunities in Brunswick.
"We hope that the market [from Bowdoin] is going to be pretty good for us, and it's definitely one we're targeting," said Eichleay. "Anyone who has access to an aircraft can use the airport."
"It's going to be a whole heck of a lot cheaper than flying into Portland," he added. "Our fuel prices will be at least 15 to 20 percent less—and same with our hangar and parking rates."
When asked whether the airport targets only upper-class consumers, Eichleay admitted that "flying an airplane is expensive, but certainly our biggest market is the corporate jet market."
"There are an array of demographics that use the airport," said Eichleay. "Any student can come and learn to fly for less than what it costs to take a couple courses at Bowdoin."
According to Longley, a feasibility study conducted by a subcommittee of the MRRA board concluded that a commercial airport was not viable at this time.
"It's going to have limited use," she said. "Do I think a lot of people will be using the airport? Probably not."
Both Levesque and Eichleay explained that the airport hopes to involve Bowdoin students as much as possible.
"Bowdoin can have a flying club, that'd be a great idea," said Levesque. "They could start their own aeronautical program if they wanted to."
"We want to work with Bowdoin about getting it built into the curriculum," said Eichleay. "We want anyone who is interested in getting a pilot license to come and do that with us at Flight Level."
BXM also plans to provide internship opportunities for Bowdoin students.
"We would like to explore the opportunities of offering students jobs, especially for any Bowdoin student that might have aviation interest," said Eichleay.
Eichleay also confirmed that BXM, in partnership with Maine Coastal Flight, will offer a flight school starting in May or June of this year.
Tomorrow will mark the airport's first full week in business. According to the airport guide, however, there are "no instrument approaches available until further notice" and the "approach lighting is out of service." In other words, planes can only fly into the airport on a clear day and require appropriate communication instrumentation during inclement weather to land.
"Those instrument approaches will be available in June," Eichleay said.
Clear weather or not, the Brunswick Executive Airport is anticipating a lucrative year.
"We're looking forward to servicing a Bowdoin-related market and we're going to be offering pretty generous discounts," Eichleay said.
"We have trustee meetings coming up, we have alumni council, we have commencement, and I imagine there are some parents who have access to planes," said Hood.
As the May 31 closing date for the naval base rapidly approaches, BXM marks yet another example of the future of Brunswick post-NASB.
"It's definitely better than having an empty military base sitting there with nothing going on," said Hood.