In 2005, Maine’s Brunswick Naval Air Station was one of the many military bases around the U.S. slated for closure under the Base Realignment and Closure program. In operation since 1943, first as a training base then later during the Cold War as a home to sub-hunting patrol aircraft, the facility was abandoned by the Navy at the end of 2009 and officially decommissioned.
Unlike many other bases, Brunswick got a second chance at life when the publicly owned Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority was given the facility to convert into Brunswick Executive Airport. “The fate of Brunswick was sort of up in the air for a while, and luckily our redevelopment authority and the whole congressional delegation in Maine was strongly behind making it a public-use airport,” said Peter Eichleay, the owner and president of Flight Level Aviation, which operates four FBOs in the U.S. Northeast, including the one at Brunswick. “Obviously we’re pretty glad they made the decision to open it up.”
The decision to move into Brunswick and start at an airport from scratch wasn’t an easy one for the company. “There was no history to go on; this had been only a military airport, so there was no traffic level that we had as square one to go off,” Eichleay noted. “But given the proximity to all these great locations, we thought it was worth a shot.”
The airport officially made its debut as a public-use facility on April 1, 2011, and Massachusetts-based Flight Level has been the service provider there from the beginning. One might say it opened under a cloud that April Fools’ Day, according to Eichleay. “Day one we got about six inches of snow and they had to have all the snow removal equipment fully deployed to get open in time,” he recalled. “From that point we were thinking, ‘Oh boy, this is a bad omen; we’re building a brand-new facility and fuel farm and this is what it’s going to be like.’”
More Development Ahead
Instead, from that moment, things have been on an upswing for the FBO, which has seen 20 percent year-over-year increases in uplift and operations in each of its five years of existence. It was converted from existing structures at the cost of approximately half a million dollars. The 5,000-sq-ft terminal was gutted and given a complete facelift, which was completed in 2014. It has passenger and pilot lounges with high-definition TVs and a shingled CSR desk reminiscent of a Maine summer cottage. Also provided are a snooze room, showers, crew cars and on-site car rental.
The facility occupies 10 acres at the airport, and with 60,000 sq ft of heated hangar space (renovated by the Redevelopment Authority) capable of sheltering aircraft up to a Boeing 737-800 there is enough space to handle the Casco Bay summer home traffic, which makes up a large portion of the location’s clientele. The company will lease a new 20,000-sq-ft hangar that the Redevelopment Authority intends to build within the next two years. That structure will also be able to accommodate the latest long-range business jets.
While the peak summer tenancy can attract everything from Falcons to Globals, the location is home year-round to a Citation CJ4 and a King Air 200, not to mention Eichleay’s own Cirrus. Once, after a flight crew landed at Brunswick too late to reach their airline flight out of Providence, Rhode Island by car, the FBO’s Cirrus-current general manager fired up the aircraft and flew them there with enough time to catch the flight.
Among the improvements the company made to the site was the installation of a fuel farm for 20,000 gallons of jet-A and 15,000 gallons of avgas. The Shell-branded facility employs three refuelers: 8,000-gallon and 3,000-gallon jet fuel trucks and a 1,000-gallon 100LL refueler. The FBO pumps several hundred thousand gallons of fuel a year. For jet-A customers, the location offers a bonus in the form of the state’s most famous export. “If you take certain minimum uplifts on the jet side, we throw in some lobsters that we can crate and cool and send out with you,” Eichleay told AIN. The live crustaceans are packed in Styrofoam coolers with seaweed, which will keep them alive for more than 24 hours.
Over the next year, the location, which is open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. with callout available, plans to install a self-service avgas pump. Another vestige of the location’s military days is a de-icing pad with fluid reclamation capability that was also refurbished by the company, allowing it to perform Type I and IV de-icing on up to airliner-size aircraft.
The airport receives a lot of business resulting from its proximity to Bowdoin College and the Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics shipyard that specializes in building surface warships for the U.S. Navy. An unexpected boost comes from the former P-3 Orion patrol squadron (relocated to Jacksonville, Fla.) that regularly returns to its former stomping grounds to conduct training over the moody North Atlantic. Every other year, as it has for the last three decades, the airport hosts the Great State of Maine Airshow, with the FBO serving the likes of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds demonstration teams.