FITCHBURG — The airport is flying high as a busy hub for pilots, aircraft, passengers and businesses of all types and varieties and when it comes to its growth, the sky is the limit.
According to Interim Airport Manager Peter Kettle, Fitchburg Municipal Airport, located on Crawford Road, is one of the busiest small general aviation airports in the region. He said once the Federal Aviation Administration approvals are provided for Runway End Identifier Lights and Precision Approach Path Indicators and the corrected approach plates are published “we will be the busiest.”
A new runway designed by Gale Associates, part of an airport expansion project, was completed in May 2020 by D.W. White Construction. The old runway will be transformed into seven new hangars, which is currently in the design and approval stage. Kettle said they expect a request for proposal will be in place shortly to lease the land for the hangars to be built.
state-of-the-art administration building has a tight security system and houses Kettle’s and other’s offices, the top-rated FCA Flight Center flight school, and more. It was constructed four years ago to the tune of $4 million dollars, and Kettle said the expansion plans include the construction of larger hangars, installing a solar farm, which “will create revenue” for the airport, and building a new restaurant within the next two years.
“We anticipate a company coming in and signing a 20- or 30-year lease,” Kettle said of the restaurant. “This year we are actually in the black, everything is going in the right direction. We have to thank the Mayor (Steve DiNatale) and City Council for getting us here.”
Kettle said there is a “brand spanking new” jet in one of the hangars and that one of the business tenants, Twin City Airmotive Inc., which offers a variety of services for single- and twin-engine aircraft, has a civil air patrol contract, which means it helps public safety entities including police and fire. A National Weather Service station is on site as well as a self-service gas pump.
“People are coming here all the time,” Kettle said. “That’s how we make our money, fuel sales and rents.”
The airport, whose FAA identifier is FIT, has been open to the public since it was activated in 1929. According to a newspaper article published in 2018, the airport generates an estimated $14.5 million a year for the local economy.
“Any money we make we put back into the airport, which is good for the city,” Kettle said.
Kettle has lived in Fitchburg since 2002 and has been in his current role as Interim Airport Manager for 21 months. He was a member of the Fitchburg Airport Commission for 15 years, including one year as chair, prior to taking on the interim position.
“I enjoy making things better than in the past, particularly with respect to the upgrade of the airport,” he said.
He said things have been going “very good” over the last year during the pandemic — fuel sales are up 20%.
“We can’t wait to get back to normality with the administration building being open again and to see the real growth take place,” he said.
Kettle said the airport is typically busy and has remained so during the pandemic.
“The airport was open all of the pandemic time with action taken to ensure sterilization was in place all of the time,” he said. “The administration building was closed but with normal activity of airplanes and businesses like Twin City Airmotive, Skyline Flight, Nagle aircraft, Unlimited Aero Engines, and Wayne Upholsteries have kept business flowing at the airport.”
Kettle said it is important to not only keep the airport up and running but foster it thriving and growing.
“The airport is a self-supporting department of the City of Fitchburg and with the support of the Mayor and the City Council we are growing each year,” he said. “We are currently in the black after a few years of being in the red. The airport is now getting onto the aviation map world with weekly jets coming in bringing in new businesses and supporting old business.”
The airport’s influence can be seen even outside its grounds. Driving up to it you notice Airport Auto Parts and a shopping plaza called Airport Business Center before the runway even comes into view.
“We now have approximately 60 acres of developable land for use for new hangars and even maybe an Airport Business Park going forward, which is dependent upon the upcoming airport master plan, which is being completed by the consultant Gale Associates,” Kettle said.
He said they are “very pleased” to welcome two new commissioners to the Airport Commission, Elizabeth Walsh and David Ginisi. Clayton Raymond, who has been a commissioner since 2016, was recently elected chair of the commission by his fellow commissioners.
“The most rewarding aspect of serving on the commission is watching projects come to fruition and seeing the benefits to our community,” said Raymond, who for the most part has lived in Fitchburg since 1962.
There are currently six members on the Airport Commission, whose mission is to exercise all the powers and duties of the airport operation in accordance with General Laws Chapter 90 Section 51E-N subject to the provisions of Chapter 3 Article 18 of the Fitchburg city code.
According to Raymond, the Airport Commission is beginning the process of developing an airport master plan and airport layout plan, which was last updated in 2008.
“The new plan will reflect the new longer runway, which has attracted jet activity, benefiting the business community and the airport with increased activity and fuel sales,” Raymond said.
Raymond said that because the small airport is “conveniently located” in North Worcester County, it attracts a lot of aviation traffic.
“Small business jets as well as private single-engine aircraft are attracted to the smaller and less-congested environment the airport provides,” he said, “and the airport delivers personalized service to the general aviation community.”
Kettle said they are looking forward to seeing how the expansion helps the airport to grow and continue providing services to the aviation community.
“The future of Fitchburg Municipal Airport is very bright with the guidance of the Mayor and the City Council and also of course the Airport Commission, making sure that all future development is meant to increase revenues for the city and the airport to generate said revenue for continued development.”