BANGOR, Maine — LifeFlight of Maine has begun its move to expand operations in Bangor with the introduction of its first fixed-wing aircraft, which will free up the group’s two helicopters from certain duties and provide high-speed transport for the critically ill and injured.
Voting unanimously Wednesday, the Bangor City Council approved an agreement for LifeFlight to lease 17,000 square feet of hangar space and more than 7,000 square feet of office space in what is known as Hangar No. 600 at Bangor International Airport.
According to airport director Tony Caruso, the lease will expand LifeFlight’s presence at the airport as it moves from a single bay in another hangar near the Maine State Police office building.
The expansion is expected to bring additional jobs to Bangor. LifeFlight executive director Thomas Judge said the group will hire eight additional pilots and an additional aviation mechanics technician.
Over time, he said, it will bring in additional clinical providers and communications specialists. LifeFlight has 75 to 80 employees statewide.
Under the 10-year agreement, which includes a five-year renewal term, LifeFlight will make improvements to the facility, including the restrooms, heating and ventilation and Internet technology as well as adding stairs and fire suppression systems.
Declaring the improvements a “mutual benefit,” the lease allows LifeFlight credits for the improvements. City officials estimate LifeFlight will pay $75,000 per year for the first five years and $95,000 per year for the remaining years.
The expansion comes as LifeFlight prepares to begin offering fixed-wing operations May 18.
According to Judge, the twin-engine, fixed-wing aircraft to be based in Bangor can fly in more weather conditions and is about 115 mph faster than the helicopters.
It also can fly more efficiently over longer distances, freeing up helicopters for other missions.
Last year, LifeFlight transported more than 1,600 patients from different parts of the state to hospitals in and out of state. It was unable to assist about 500 others because its helicopters already were assisting others or weather prevented flight.
The total cost of the fixed-wing project is $3.5 million. Judge said the Camden Board of Selectmen voted last month to let LifeFlight use its municipal interest rate to borrow $2.25 million to purchase the turboprop plane.
The rest of the money will be raised by the nonprofit’s foundation, which is working to raise $6.5 million to add a third helicopter to the fleet.
Last month, LifeFlight purchased a fixed-wing aircraft that it planned to retrofit over 60 to 90 days. It will begin operations with a leased aircraft that will be returned once its plane is ready for operations.
In addition to aircraft, LifeFlight has a fleet of ground ambulances that take patients to landing sites and airports.