This is the second in a series of two stories. The first story can be seen online at www.salemnews.com.
Bill Mahoney’s heart has been in the skies for 71 years, his mind set on re-imagining Beverly Municipal Airport for the past 25.
The Airport Commission’s 88-year-old vice chairman sits at a table in a cramped meeting room, his fingers running across engineering plans that he says will usher in the future for the airport.
But in a way, the future is already here. A $75 million corporate jet sits inside a gargantuan hangar nearby, waiting for its next moment in the clouds. Other high-value jets are spread like buckshot throughout the airport.
While recreational flying put Beverly Municipal Airport on the map, corporate travel and clientele is keeping it there.
The transformation can be seen at a single company headquartered on the West Side of the airport, which is in Danvers.
A giant pole towers above the entrance for North Atlantic Air. On top of it, a sign with the Shell Oil logo carries the word “Aviation” underneath. Shell fueling vehicles are all over the airport, as are the hangars run by North Atlantic.
“The corporate end of flying and aviation has grown dramatically over the last 10, 20 years,” company President Kenneth Robinson said. “That’s the emerging part of it.”
North Atlantic Air is a fixed-base operator, a company that provides fuel, repairs, storage and more to planes and companies using Beverly Municipal Airport.
There used to be four FBOs, Robinson said, but they closed one by one over the last several decades as the cost to do business became too much to handle.
In that same time, product demand changed as dynamically as the airport. In the ’70s, avgas — aviation gasoline — was the only fuel in demand as recreational craft burned through it, according to Robinson. Today, 90 percent of the fuel sold at the airport is jet fuel.
While recreational flying hasn’t vanished, it certainly isn’t the priority anymore.
“Beverly has adapted itself to be able to accommodate [corporate] airplanes,” Robinson said. “They did it through the infrastructure of the airport — improving the runways, improving the lighting, improving the approaches, tree cutting.”
Through grants, private investment and land sales, about $20 million has been funneled into improving the airport in the past decade, according to Paul Vitale, chairman of the Beverly Airport Commission.
It started around 2007, when the commission began selling off unused open space — wooded land mostly, Vitale said. That money sat in the bank as a way to leverage bigger grants outside of the city.
“They saw we had our funding. That’s what they liked,” Vitale said. “We completely rebuilt runway 927. That was a $3 million job. We started building the ramps on the East Side. We put up new fencing for security.”
New taxiways, new run-up areas — it all started to snowball, Vitale said.
“We started to attract people from around the country who wanted to build new hangars — a half-million dollar hanger, $300,000 hangars, on city-owned property,” Vitale said. “We have an enormous inventory of city-owned property leased by the tenants, and the tenants have pumped their own financing in and invested money in our airport.”
But there’s still a critical need for improvement, he said, specifically on the East Side, opposite North Atlantic Air’s private operation.
New headquarters, restaurant
There is an administration building at Beverly Municipal Airport, but many who visit wouldn’t know it.
The building contains a small office with a couple of desks, a unisex bathroom, a meeting room and a large maintenance area. It’s open only when a secretary or airport manager are there.
“When aircraft come in for landing on the East Side, there’s no facilities for the pilot or passengers to use on this side of the airport,” Vitale said. “If the airport manager happens to be open, they can use that. But there’s no pilot lounge.”
And after hours, “there’s nothing here,” Vitale continued. No food. No bathrooms. No lounge. There isn’t even a phone.
Provided they have a cellphone, “they can grab a taxi,” he said, “and go to McDonalds.”
The Airport Commission recently secured $3.8 million in state cash to pair with more than $200,000 of its own to build a $4 million administration building.
The new building will be accessible to both the public and pilots. It will be locked when no one is home, Vitale said, but pilots will have the codes to get in on their own.
Inside, there will be meeting rooms, a lounge, a shower, gender-separated restrooms, a kitchen and much more.
The project has been driven by Mahoney, who started working with the commission in 1990 as the decline in use started gaining visibility.
“It has been a long haul,” Mahoney said, sitting in the current administration building. “Just imagine: this is a maintenance building. Our one maintenance employee can take this over.”
Once the new administration building is done, the commission plans to move on to the East Side parking lot, which has deteriorated, to tear it up and rebuild it, Vitale said. The building that once housed a restaurant will come down, and the commission expects to field proposals for another restaurant to open up — in yet another new building.
“We need a restaurant,” Vitale said. “We always had one.”
The commission also hopes to one day house U.S. Customs at the airport. Currently, an agent must be called in whenever an international flight is expected from Canada, Europe or even occasionally from China.
“Right now, we have customs available,” he said. “That would say customs on site. That’s a big difference.”
A new name?
But the commission is pushing for more than construction in the years ahead. They’re looking to change the airport’s name.
“We’d hope sometime to make it ‘Beverly Regional,’ because that’s what it is,” Mahoney said. “I don’t know how many of our tie-downs are Beverly residents. People that own hangars are from Wenham, Rockport and so on.”
That opinion is a popular one.
“We’ve been working — I have as a business, and the (commission) as an airport authority — to make Beverly a destination airport,” Robinson said.
There’s also some support at City Hall.
“It’s still Beverly’s airport,” said Mayor Michael Cahill. “But we want more companies to view Beverly Airport as an appropriate resource for them.”
As Cahill talked, his chief of staff, Kevin Harutunian, produced a two-pocket portfolio. A “Welcome to Beverly” message is attached to the front.
“This is a prototype,” Harutunian said, flipping it open. Inside are promotional materials for the region — places to visit, a letter from the mayor and more. The idea is to dole out the packet to people landing at Beverly Municipal Airport, Harutunian said. It could encourage businesses to open on the North Shore, using the airport as a transportation anchor.
“That’s a battle we’ve been waging for some time,” Robinson said.
“There are businesses at the Cummings Center that have airplanes here. Are they here because of the airport? Or are they at the airport because …
“It’s hard to say, but it’s a package opportunity.”
For Beverly news and story inquiries, firstname.lastname@example.org, call 978-338-2523 or message @DustinLucaSN on Twitter.