Civilian planes begin using former Maine Navy base

April 2, 2011

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BRUNSWICK, Maine—Aircraft are once again landing at Maine's Brunswick Naval Air Station, but these are civilian airplanes -- not military aircraft.

Saturday marked the opening of the Brunswick Executive Airport, a general aviation hub that's key to efforts to redevelop the base.

Steve Levesque, director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, arrived by airplane for the formal announcement that the Brunswick Executive Airport is ready to start operations. With him was Capt. William Fitzgerald, commanding officer of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The general aviation airport marks the first civilian reuse of Brunswick Naval Air Station, and it's a key part of efforts to redevelop the military base that's closing May 31. The airport will used by Kestrel Aircraft Co. and other corporations setting up shop in Brunswick. It also will be open for use by private pilots.

"This is a major asset for Maine. Because of the facilities here, we can grow the aviation industry and aerospace industry in Maine," Levesque said in an interview before a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It's more than a place for people to land to their Piper Cubs."

Maine's entire congressional delegation -- Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree -- were on hand for Saturday's dedication of the airport.

"The opening of the Brunswick Executive Airport is a critical step in the redevelopment of the base," Pingree said. "Already new jobs have been created and we can expect to see many more in the months and years ahead. Although it's sad to see the Navy leave Brunswick, there are some exciting opportunities ahead."

In a way, it's a return to the airport's roots. The site served as the state's first civilian airport in the 1920s, long before the Navy set up shop, Levesque said.

Massachusetts-based FlightLevel Aviation will provide services for Brunswick Executive Airport, and general aviation operations will be located for the time being in a 300,000-square-foot military hangar, sharing space with Kestrel, which plans to manufacture composite aircraft.

Kestrel intends to invest $100 million and employ as many as 300 people. In addition to FlightLevel Aviation and Kestrel, other tenants who've signed leases include Molnlycke Health Care, Maine Tool and Machine, and information technology company Resilient Communications.

All told, 600 jobs are in the pipeline with those companies that already have signed leases, and more leases are in the works, Levesque said.

On Saturday, aircraft weren't the only things using the twin, 10,000-foot runways. The Maine Track Club hosted a "Race the Runways" event with a 1-mile run, a 5-kilometer run and a half-marathon, all of which were held before the formal opening the airport.