MILLINOCKET, Maine — Dan Kaplan says he probably wouldn’t drive to Millinocket to invest his money, but he might fly to it.
A self-described entrepreneur, the Keene, N.H., resident is a co-founder of lowermybills.com, a financial service website that employed 200 people in Los Angeles and was drawing more than 10 million unique visitors per month when he sold it to the owners of Experian, a financial information service, several years ago, he said.
Kaplan, who briefly visited the Millinocket Regional Airport on Wednesday as part of his student pilot training in point-to-point navigation, said expanding the airport would draw more people like him to it.
“If you go to the airport in Bar Harbor right now, you’d see about a dozen jets sitting on the ramp,” Kaplan said Wednesday. “A lot of very well-to-do people who own and fly their own aircraft come to spend their time and their money in Maine, and without that airport, they probably wouldn’t do it.”
Though it is for a small project, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue says the latest round of Federal Aviation Administration money the town received late last month brings town leaders a step closer to their goal — a fully revitalized airport that brings people like Kaplan to visit and hopefully invest in the Katahdin region.
“That’s the kind of traffic we are starting to see out of the airport,” Conlogue said Wednesday.
The FAA recently signed a contract with town officials guaranteeing funding for all but 5 percent of a $90,000 grant that will be used to help clear sight obstructions from the periphery of the airport, Conlogue said.
The obstructions to be cleared include about 150 feet of trees from the north-northwest portion of the airport property and near the Brown family house, airport supervisor Jeff Campbell said.
Private contractors earned $625,000 last year for removing a hill near the intersection of two airport runways and filling, paving and otherwise enhancing safety at one end of one runway. New approach lights also were installed, Campbell said. State and federal grants paid for all but a fraction of the work.
The work followed a $250,000 tree-removal operation the year before aimed at clearing safety zones in and around the airport last fall in compliance with federal regulations.
Located on Medway Road, the airport has two runways, a main terminal and pilots lounge, six municipally and privately owned hangars, more than a dozen tie-downs, and 24-hour fuel service. It can handle most light twin-jet and turboprop aircraft. The main runway is 4,713 feet long and has pilot-controlled lighting. The other is 4,007 feet, but is not plowed in the winter although it can be used by ski-equipped aircraft, according to the town Web site, millinocket.org.
With its nearest major competitors, airports in Bangor and Presque Isle, at least an hour away, the airport can facilitate economic growth, town officials say. If Millinocket’s runway is expanded to 5,500 feet, which the town hopes to do, most light jets and turboprops could land on the main runway in bad weather, provided an instrument approach system also is installed at the airport.
Conlogue said he sees signs that the incremental approach to airport improvement is paying dividends. Last summer, the town consumed two 5,000- to 8,000-gallon loads of aviation fuel. This year, town officials are about to order a third, he said.
Campbell also has added a rental car business at the airport, he said.