The Hancock County and Augusta State airports are slated to receive grants worth more than $900,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins announced this week.
The Hancock County Airport will receive $427,500 while the Augusta State Airport will receive $475,000.
“Maine’s airports, both big and small, are critical resources for the communities in which they exist and the people they serve,” the Senators said in a joint statement on Tuesday. “It is essential that we enhance and maintain the infrastructure and safety at each of these airports in order to remain competitive and efficient.”
Both airports applied for the grants early this year and will use the funds to purchase an Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting vehicle and more safety equipment that is required by the FAA to upgrade from Class III airports to Class I.
The airports found they needed to upgrade when their primary carrier, Colgan Air Inc., announced that it intended to replace its 19-passenger planes with 34-passenger models by Oct. 31.
Both Hancock and Augusta airports, currently designated Class III, can accommodate planes with nine to 30 seats, said Hancock County Airport manager Bob Cossette. The airports need to upgrade to Class I to accommodate the 34-passenger planes.
“We were hoping we would get the grant,” said Cossette. “Starting in the month of November we will achieve full upgrade and start receiving the bigger planes. It is a lot sooner than we expected.”
The airports also need to build $400,000 storage facilities for the rescue and fire fighting vehicle and other fire fighting equipment to achieve Class I status, but both Cossette and Augusta State Airport manager John Guimond don’t expect that to be completed for another year or two.
“We are going to apply for another grant, but that probably won’t be approved until 2009,” said Guimond.
The FAA “understands we can’t do this overnight,” said Cossette. “As long as we have the plans in order we will be able to receive the planes.”