Private jets have fueled the significant growth of a small Waterville airport

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WATERVILLE, Maine – Robert LaFleur Airport in Waterville has seen a 60% increase in fuel sales over the past fiscal year and a 150% increase since 2020.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, sales soared from 36,844 gallons of fuel in 2019 to 50,842 gallons in 2020, which exceeded the airport’s target, the manager said. Randy Marshall Jr. In 2021, sales increased again when the airport sold 92,486 gallons of fuel, he said.

Although the pandemic has interrupted travel for many commercial passengers across the country, smaller airports with specialized services such as Robert LaFleur Airport, which offers de-icing among other features found at larger airports , experienced significant growth. It’s likely more people were inclined to fly privately, and Waterville Airport is fast and convenient for business, Marshall Jr. said.

He also credited Waterville’s downtown revitalization efforts — including the opening of the Lockwood Hotel in August, construction of the new Paul J. Schupf Center for the Arts, and major downtown reconstruction — as well as sporting events at campus facilities, with parents, investors and others. Region.

“For our little AG [general aviation] airport, the growth is mind-boggling,” said Marshall Jr. “It’s not just about improving and increasing airport traffic. When you get back to the roots of why we’re here and why we do what we do, that means more people visiting our community.

A photo shared by Robert LaFleur Airport in June 2022 shows the new taxiway taking shape. Credit: Courtesy of Robert LaFleur Airport

Airports in Pittsfield, Almost Isle, Sanford and other locations have also fared well throughout the pandemic. Some have secured major funding for improvement projects, while others have seen spikes in revenue and numbers of take-offs and landings that have surpassed those of much larger airports in Bangor and Portland.

An increase in airport use means people are supporting local restaurants and businesses, creating a ripple effect in the area, Marshall Jr. said.

The airport also collected $40,050 in landing fees from increased traffic, a 436% increase over the previous year, Marshall Jr. said. The airport charges between $100 and $125 for landing fees, depending on the aircraft.

In the last fiscal year, the airport recorded 95 calls, that is, when staff provide service to aircraft during irregular hours. The airport typically budgets around $4,000 a year for employees answering calls, which last year generated $13,000 in revenue, making a profit, Marshall Jr. said.

Being centrally located with easy access to Interstate 95 makes Waterville a regional hub, he said.

Airport users appreciate the facility’s offerings despite it being a small airport, he said. For example, there are de-icing services, an automated aircraft weather system as well as other technologies, experienced personnel certified by the National Air Transportation Association, and a 5,500-foot runway – longer than the runway of the Augusta State Airport. A skydiving company also started operations in 2021.

The airport provides an individualized experience for travelers, striving to make their transition from airplane to vehicle seamless so they can get to their destination quickly, which sets the airport apart from others, said Marshall Jr. .

Air traffic comes from a wide range of flyers, including those related to Colby and Thomas colleges, parents visiting children at summer camps, skiers and snowmobilers during the winter months, and people traveling for business, Marshall Jr. said. People from agricultural and industrial businesses and engineering companies in central Maine frequent the airport, he said.

Over Colby College’s graduation weekend, a dozen business jets were lined up at the airport, Waterville City Manager Stephen Daly said at a recent city council meeting.

The increase in activity is an indicator that downtown revitalization is paying off, he said. This includes a series of Colby College projects, such as Greene Block + Studios and the Lockwood Hotel, and ongoing construction to make Main Street and surrounding areas more pedestrian-friendly.

The Federal Aviation Administration grant covered a recently completed taxiway project, which cost about $4.6 million, he said. The airport also had its main runway rebuilt as part of a $5.5 million project in 2015. It has received about $13 million in total in federal grants since Marshall Jr. became director in 2011. .

“Essentially, over the last 10 years or so, every surface at the airport has been repaved,” he said, noting that the smooth runways, clean and well-maintained safety areas, and other features make a difference for those who use the airport.

Marshall Jr. is optimistic that traffic trends will continue, especially now that the new taxiway is complete. Earlier this week, city councilors approved a lease for someone to build a hangar at the airport, and Marshall Jr. also heard from someone interested in opening a restaurant and a brewery on the property.

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