When the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H., was converted into a civil airport in the early 1990s, Bob Jesurum, a computer hardware and software developer, saw an opportunity to build an aviation business. Instead of opening an FBO first then adding other services, Jesurum started a maintenance shop–Port City Aircraft Repair–in one of the gigantic old Air Force hangars at the airport. In June 2003, he built an FBO and renamed the company Port City Air, then later that year bought New Hampshire Helicopters.
Pease International Airport was named after Capt. Harl Pease, Jr., a World War II B-17 pilot. Pease and his 19th Bomb Group crew had been scheduled to take part in a “maximum effort mission” on Aug. 7, 1942 in Papua, New Guinea. But two days earlier, the crew’s B-17 lost an engine and they were forced to return to their base in Australia. Instead of sitting out the mission, the crew patched together an airworthy B-17 from one of the unserviceable airplanes and flew all day and into the night to rejoin the 19th Bomb Group in Port Moresby at 1 a.m.
The B-17 crew had only a few hours to rest before taking off on a bombing mission to Vunakanua airfield in Rabaul, New Britain, but before they reached the target, more than 30 Japanese fighters attacked. “Captain Pease and his crew shot down several of the enemy, fought their way to the target and bombed successfully.” But the B-17 was damaged, and Pease wasn’t able to keep up with the formation and was attacked again. Although he was initially feared dead when his B-17 went down, later two priests confirmed that Pease and a crewmember survived but were then executed by the Japanese. Pease was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously on Dec. 2, 1942.
International Flight Services
For Jesurum, opening a business on the vast empty spaces of the newly civilian-ized airport was “part foolishness, part hopefulness,” he said. “And it was partly just a feeling of civic responsibility.” At the time, there was an FBO at the airport, and Jesurum owned a pressurized Baron. “There was no maintenance facility,” he said. “I hired a mechanic to take care of my airplane and that naturally grew into a maintenance shop.”
The Part 145 shop offers maintenance for almost any kind of aircraft, from the occasional Antonov cargo airplane that stops at Pease to heavy helicopters, business jets and everything in between.
The FBO facility built in 2003 includes a 22,000-sq-ft hangar and 5,000 sq ft of office space.
More recently, Port City Air has added to its facilities with newly refurbished hangars covering an additional 80,000 sq ft. More companies are basing corporate aircraft at Pease, according to Jesurum, and he added, “Business is good. We’ve grown steadily in spite of the bad economy.”
With its 11,321-foot runway and plentiful space, Pease International Airport is an ideal tech stop for overseas business jet flights, according to Lisa Campbell, Port City Air’s marketing director. And Port City Air has aggressively marketed that aspect of its services. “We differentiate fuel pricing between international and domestic flights,” she explained, with lower prices available for overseas travelers.
Pease International Airport has a full-time U.S. Customs office on-site, but inside the airline terminal (which is not currently being used by a scheduled airline). Arrivals must park at the terminal to clear customs, but the FBO takes care of refueling and other needs on the terminal ramp.
The FBO also has to deal with international trash, which must be sanitized before disposal to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. Port City Air arranges to collect and consolidate the trash for off-site sanitizing and disposal.
Capt. Harl Pease would be proud of the way the airport named after him has turned out. It is not only a vital part of the Pease Trade Port industrial park and international trade zone but also a welcoming point of entry for soldiers returning from combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. For many years, local volunteers have met arriving military charters, no matter the time of day. Usually about 150 and more greeters are there for each airplane, clapping and cheering for the arriving soldiers. “It’s a great program by the people of Portsmouth,” Campbell said.