FRYEBURG — Construction crews on Monday broke ground on a new taxiway at Eastern Slopes Regional Airport, and several other airport projects are on the horizon.
The new taxiway will improve access to the airport’s existing hangars as well as additional hangars that may be built in the future. A.J. Coleman’s was the low bidder for the job. The project will be done within 20 days. David Cullinan, the airport’s manager, said Coleman hopes to finish it in 12 to 15 days.
“We currently have 50 airplanes based at Fryeburg, which is kind of an all-time high,” said Cullilnan. “Our hangars are all full. So, we’re actually looking at the possibility of constructing a new hangar building.”
The new taxiway, which replaces an existing one, will service about 25 hangar spaces plus any new hangars when they are built. The taxiway that’s being rebuilt is busier than the other taxiways at the airport which are in much better shape.
The federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost of the new taxiway, the state of Maine will pay five percent and the other five percent is paid for by the airport, which got the money through hangar and building leases.
“It’s a pretty big bang for your buck when you can get 90 percent federal and five percent by Maine Department for a project like this,” said Cullinan adding the total cost is about $170,000.
The airport commits to being in business for 20 years when it take a federal grant like the one for this project. The only way to close the airport would be to pay the feds back.
Ilie Retezatu, of Gale Associates Engineers and Planners, in Bedford, N.H., said the taxiway project is a reconstruction of the existing taxiway with some drainage improvements. The area is about 25,000 square feet. The former taxiway was old and deteriorating due to the freeze thaw cycle, insufficient drainage and other factors. This new taxiway’s pavement can last 25 years.
“I think this is a blessing for the airport,” said Retezatu of the project.
Cullinan added he went to Augusta five years ago to ask for funding for this project.
The airport’s previous project was to put in a jet-fuel facility.
“It has definitely increased the traffic and we only been in the jet-fuel business since this summer,” said Cullinan
The airport is also developing a new GPS and radio based system with a “vertical component” that will allow pilots to take off and land from the airport when the clouds are hanging low, said Cullinan. It will make the airport more attractive to on-demand charter services.
The next project will be a new terminal facility. The new terminal will be larger and more accommodating, said Cullinan. It will have a conference room, a cafe and pilot rooms so that pilots can take mandated naps before they fly again. Cullinan hopes the new terminal project will commence in 2015.
After the new terminal is done, the airport is planning to create an 800-foot runway extension which will also add an addition of 25 feet of width. The expanded runway would allow for larger airplanes that could seat 30 people.
“We’ll be 5,000 feet long and 100 feet wide as opposed to 4,200 feet long and 75 feet wide,” said Cullinan.
All of this is part of the airport’s 20-year master plan, which is worked on in five year increments.
The publicly owned airport, located on Lyman Drive, was originally built in 1961. It services a diverse clientele that ranges from flight students to business executives.
“We also have several animal rescue missions where pilots actually donate their time to fly in pets, mostly puppies, from states that are mostly all kill-shelters” said Cullinan. “We’ve sent many dogs through here to the Conway Area Humane Society.”
There have also been a number of “angel flights” where pilots volunteer to give people rides to burn and cancer centers. Civil Air Patrol does flights to look for smoke in times of high fire danger.
About two thirds of the transient air traffic is heading toward the Mount Washington Valley. Cullinan would like to see the airport get funding from the town of Conway, which had supported the airport with funding in the past. However, Conway hasn’t supported the airport since about the time SB 2-style town meeting was adopted. Under SB 2, secret ballot voting on money articles is held separately from discussion.
“We haven’t gained it back yet,” said Cullinan. “We’re working on figuring that out.”
One possibility is the creation of a bi-state authority of some type, said Cullinan who has been with the airport for 16 years. The airport does get some funds from Bartlett and Jackson. The airport petitions the towns in its service area, which is a 25-mile radius or a 30-minute car drive. That includes seven New Hampshire towns who each have the option to send representatives to be in the airport authority board. Conway has three members and Fryeburg has three; other towns have one member.
Cullinan has seen an increase in the traffic lately. He said the economic slowdown had negatively impacted aviation.
“We have a decent business for a small airport, said Cullinan. “We do better than a lot. “We’re up and coming, in my opinion.’