NASHUA – There is a lot of good news coming out of Friday’s opening of a new, longer runway at Nashua Municipal Airport, but there’s some not-so-good news, too.
The good news is economic: Boire Field is now more attractive to corporate aircrafts.
The longer runway and upgraded navigation facilities have been in the works for more than a decade, and the $25 million project is New England’s biggest aviation project not involving a commercial airport in the past decade, and one of the biggest “general aviation” projects in the country.
The runway was opened to traffic Friday morning in a ceremony that drew local, state and federal officials, plus what is probably the oldest airplane still flying in New Hampshire, a 1929 Curtiss Robin based in Loudon, which made the ceremonial first landing on the new tarmac.
“This can’t be anything but positive,” said Kenneth McLaughlin, owner of Macair, one of two companies which provide hangars and flight service at Boire, including offices for corporate meetings.
The 6,000-foot runway makes Nashua more feasible for use by jets owned by companies with operations in southern New Hampshire and northeastern Massachusetts, he said.
More than a dozen such jets, including a few owned by individuals, are based at Nashua hangars. Servicing other jets during stopovers is lucrative business for the airport, as well as being a good sales pitch for Nashua when luring companies to the area, and such stopovers should now be more numerous.
McLaughlin noted that a big company whose executives want to talk with local executives or local clients as part of a swing from the West Coast to Europe needs a runway long enough so that a Gulfstream jet can take off with enough fuel to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Until now, they had to go to Manchester airport or Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass.
“We’re not in the pipeline,” said McLaughlin. “We’re going to be in the pipeline now.”
So what’s the not-so-good news? The noise is back.
The old runway was still used for most of the 10 months that the new runway was being built, but it had to be closed two weeks ago while the old pavement was removed.
All flights were banned during that period except helicopters – not counting two planes which, according to rumors circulating during Friday’s event, landed illegally and face FAA sanctions.
“It’s been nice,” said Lorraine Alcorn, who has lived for a quarter century at 79 Pine Tree Road, near the eastern end of the runway.
Alcorn said she enjoyed the respite from takeoffs and landings even though she hardly notices the noise of planes any more, “unless you’re out on the deck and one goes over – then you have to stop talking for a moment.”
“It’s not too bad; it’s part of being here. We knew the airport was here when we arrived, although there was hardly anything here back then,” she said. “It’s really only annoying on a Saturday or Sunday morning when you’re trying to sleep in with the window open.”
Alcorn said that the jets aren’t a big problem; despite their size and speed, they’re relatively quiet. Single-engine propeller planes are louder, but worst of all are the helicopters.
“They go by so slowly, and they’re loud,” she said. “Those things are obnoxious.”
The new runway is parallel to the former runway, called 14-32 in airport terminology, reflecting the direction in tens of degrees that aircraft face when using either end. The runway is parallel to Amherst Street.
As well as being 500 feet longer than the old runway, which was last refurbished in 1986, the upgrade includes more modern navigation aids, lighting and better drainage.
The main contractor was Continental Paving of Londonderry, which had to haul in many tons of stone to fill in damp areas and support the runway.
Because Nashua lacks commercial service and the resulting heavy aircraft, company officials said, the runway is covered by pavement only about 4 inches thick, half the depth needed on interstate highways. Runways at Manchester airport, by contrast, have asphalt more than a foot thick.
For the many single-engine airplane based at the Nashua airport, the new runway won’t make much difference, since they need much less distance for landing or taking off.
The good news for them is the end of the flight shutdown, probably the longest here since the airport was built as a grass landing strip in 1934.
“I’ve got students lined up, ready to go. They’ve been champing at the bit for two weeks,” said Roger Matthews, owner of Tri Star Aviation, a flight school.
The improvement comes even as use of Nashua airport continues to slump, due partly to the recession but mostly to Daniel Webster College winding down its pilot-training program. The college’s students once performed tens of thousands of training flights a year at Boire Field, but now just a handful of students are finishing their training in a program that was ended after ITT bought the college two years ago.
Nashua Airport isn’t alone in this slump. General aviation – meaning noncommercial flights – has been declining throughout the country for many years, due to an aging population of private pilots and the soaring cost of fuel. About 195,000 people in the country have private pilots licenses now, one-third fewer than the 290,000 who had licenses two decades ago.
Despite the slump, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta, who came to Nashua for Friday’s dedication, said investment in noncommercial airports was money well spent.
“We do investment for the long term,” he said. “Aviation is worth $1.3 trillion to this country.”
Huerta said that his visit to this year’s gathering at Oshkosh, Wisc., which is by far the nation’s largest get-together of general-aviation pilots, convinced him that private flight was alive and well.
“There was such excitement there,” he said. “I’m convinced we’re going to see the traffic and operations start to pick up.”
Friday morning’s dedication ceremony drew Mayor Donalee Lozeau, who got to wield the yard-long scissors cutting the symbolic ribbon, and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Former Nashua Mayor Don Davidson, a commercial pilot who has long been head of the Nashua Aviation Authority, ran the ceremonies.
The first official landing on the runway was by a 1929 Curtiss Robin, a plane restored by Fred Dexter of Loudon.
Jack Ferns, executive director of the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, was a passenger in the flight, and said it was likely that the plane was the oldest flying aircraft based in the state.
The Robin was really first, however. Aside from the two planes which allegedly landed illegally while the runway was closed, the actual first landing on the new runway was by a Citation jet which brought FAA Administrator Huerta and other federal officials to the ceremony.
David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or email@example.com. Follow Brooks’ blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).