For many corporate aircraft heading west from Europe, their first glimpse of the U.S. isn’t the spires of New York City but the shores of Maine. Bangor Aviation Services, the municipally owned and operated FBO at Bangor International Airport, the closest U.S. airport to Europe, sees more than 400 private flights each month by business jets crossing the Atlantic. While Maine is lacking in neither scenic beauty nor New England charm, that isn’t what draws the flocks of private travelers. “We’re a tech stop,” said Kevin Tipler, the airport’s ramp service manager. “That’s what we’re known for in the business, and aircraft come here primarily to clear customs, get their fuel, get serviced and get out of here.”
The city of Bangor bought the airport (formerly Dow Air Force Base) from the government in 1968, but the field still plays host to the Maine Air National Guard’s aerial refueling wing. The 11,440-foot runway is long enough to accommodate the unit’s KC-135 tankers, and indeed any other aircraft that chooses to alight on it.
The 10,000-sq-ft building that now houses the FBO was once the airport’s original terminal, which was replaced in the mid-1970s. It includes a reception lobby, passenger lounge, conference room, crew lounge, kitchen facilities, flight-planning area with WSI weather service, quiet/snooze room, showers and crew cars. Car rental is available at the airline terminal, but GA customers can arrange to have their cars delivered to the FBO, where they will be driven on the ramp for planeside pickup, and collected on departure.
U.S. Customs and Immigration is available 24 hours a day at the airport’s customs office. While the passengers are being processed through customs, their aircraft is simultaneously being serviced outside. “If their final destination is maybe New York, they might have to wait two hours before they see customs,” noted Kipler. “Here they are going to be through customs and gone in 30 minutes.” Bangor’s customs service and runway length also bring between 100 and 200 transatlantic diversions a year, for such reasons as medical emergencies, mechanical problems, low fuel or security issues.
Double Duty for FBO Employees
The FBO, which operates 24 hours a day, is unusual in that–with the exception of two dedicated customer service representatives–it shares most of its 22-person staff with the airport. “The people who work at the FBO aren’t strictly just FBO employees,” Kipler told AIN. “In the course of a day they could fuel a [Cessna] 152, do a lav on a CRJ700 and then help with an air start on the Antonov An-225.”
His NATA Safety 1st-trained staff performs fueling for all aircraft at the airport, with six jet-A tankers holding between 3,000 and 10,000 gallons each, as well as hydrant carts that can fuel jetliners directly from pipes leading from the three-million-gallon fuel farm. The airport also has a pair of 1,200-gallon avgas trucks that draw from a 10,000-gallon tank. All told, on the general aviation side alone, Kipler estimates the airport pumps more than a million gallons of fuel a year. While the facility sees steady private aircraft quick-turn traffic year round, the summer brings an influx of tourism to the area, with visitors parking their aircraft and enjoying a seaside weekend retreat.
As far as aircraft services go, the FBO can provide lav, water and international trash disposal, along with oxygen and nitrogen service. Given its Northeast location, winters can be severe, so Type I and Type IV de-icing is available with optional forced air from a trio of trucks.
The airport has technicians on call around the clock to perform light maintenance or liaise with OEM-authorized service centers in a diagnostic function in case of more serious private aircraft repairs. “We can help troubleshoot the problem and relay that information, so when the mechanics do come to the airport they arrive with the parts they may need,” noted Kipler. The location has a 16,500-sq-ft heated former military hangar that can accommodate a GIII, as well as several smaller hangars, and is home to a Falcon 20, a Caravan and two Beech 99s, along with a variety of smaller airplanes.
Given its ownership by the airport, the FBO is in little danger of running out of aircraft parking, with more than 20 acres of ramp space available. The airport recently concluded a $5 million construction project to redo more than 17 acres of tarmac, a job that included strengthening the apron near the FBO to accommodate private jetliners such as the BBJ or ACJ.
The FBO says it rates superior customer service high on the list of priorities and, according to Kipler, no request is unreasonable. His staff has on occasion driven customers past horror author and local resident Stephen King’s home in the midst of a quick turn, for them to “snap a selfie” in front of the house. “That’s just part of the job these guys do out here,” Kipler said. “They don’t look at it like it’s a big thing.”