The trends are positive at Bangor International Airport, which recently gained daily service to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. and a fourth daily flight to Philadelphia.
“Last year our passenger count increased 11 percent from 2010,” said Tony Caruso, BIA’s interim airport director. “And we were up 15 percent this January over January 2011.
“I think there are a number of factors,” he said. “There is certainly strong demand in our community. We have a solid-to-good economic base here in the region.
“Through our secondary catchment area that extends into New Brunswick, we see a great influence” from Canadians “coming down to utilize Bangor,” Caruso said. “We did a survey recently and found that 30 percent of the folks are Canadian that are using our airport.”
“Strong connectivity to some of the major hubs” is another reason why BIA passenger traffic is rising, he indicated.
“Over this past year we were excited because Allegiant Air introduced direct service to Fort Lauderdale [in November 2011]. That was a nice addition to our market,” Caruso said.
In late March, US Airways started offering daily BIA-Reagan National service. “That helps us,” he said. “Washington, D.C. is in our top five in terms of destinations from Bangor. I think there’s going to be some increased connectivity out of Reagan National Airport.
“We have good connectivity to the New York area. Detroit is still strong, Philadelphia continues to be a strong market for us,” Caruso pointed out.
While higher passenger numbers mean more revenue for the airlines that serve BIA, as well as the businesses based in the domestic terminal, one issue has arisen — and Caruso described it as “a good problem to have.
“We’ve seen with the influx and the numbers that we’re experiencing, right now our demand for vehicle parking is exceeding our [on-site parking] capacity,” he explained. The “time period from February through early April … is peak demand for parking here. A lot of the snowbirds like to head south. There’s the school vacations, the college spring breaks. I know [that] Canada has their spring breaks as well.”
Caruso believes that airport and city officials will address the parking issue “sooner than later,” but he is not sure that an airport parking garage first proposed a few years ago “can be supported year round.
“We need to look at the overall parking demand throughout the year,” Caruso said. One possibility might be to create a satellite park-and-fly parking lot nearer Union Street “on a temporary basis,” he commented.
International traffic is a key business activity at BIA, which “in the aviation industry, has a strong reputation,” Caruso said. “We are the leader the transatlantic technical stops.”
He explained that a “technical stop” involves “basic services,” including refueling, clearing U.S. Customs, cleaning lavatories, and taking on water. Customers utilizing BIA for such services range from troop flights to corporate jets to air-cargo carriers.
The BIA staff also handles aircraft diverted to Bangor for mechanical reasons, a medical emergency, or bad weather elsewhere. The airport has “an aircraft maintenance division that handles a lot of the wide-body aircraft that come through,” Caruso said. The aircraft-maintenance staff can perform “some immediate maintenance if warranted” and assist with serious repairs, he indicated.
Airport activities also extend to general aviation. “We own and operate the fixed base operation,” which is located at the general aviation terminal off Maine Avenue, Caruso said.
Later this spring, the Sargent Corp. will start rebuilding the general aviation apron to upgrade its underground-drainage system, relocate the tie downs for smaller aircraft, and “strengthen up the ramp so we can handle the larger corporate jets,” Caruso said. Designated an Airport Improvement Project, the reconstruction will be financed 90 percent by the federal government, 7.5 percent by the Maine Department of Transportation, and 2.5 percent by Bangor.
The existing ramp can handle aircraft weighing less than 100,000 pounds. The rebuilt ramp will handle 150,000-pound aircraft, including the Boeing Business Jet.
Once the ramp project has been completed, BIA’s marketing staff will inform potential clients about the airport’s ability to service larger corporate jets. Marketing is also ongoing with domestic and international carriers and in the United States and overseas, especially “in Europe … because a lot of our traffic starts or ends” there, Caruso said.
“We let them know that Bangor is here, and we’re open if you should need a stop for any kind of serv-ice,” he said.
“We are truly 24/7 service. There aren’t many airports or even ground handlers that can lay that claim,” Caruso said.
The City of Bangor acquired the airport after the Defense Department closed Dow Air Force Base in 1968. Much of the former military airfield has been redeveloped; among the current occupants are the Gen-eral Electric Corp., the Bangor Public Works Department, Union Street Athletics, three banks, and the University of Maine at Augusta.
Actual airport operations are managed by the Airport Department, which “is a city department,” Caruso said. The department has 83 full-time workers, all of whom are city employees.
Airport revenues pay for airport operations; “no local taxpayer money … goes into the operation of the airfield,” Caruso stressed. “We operate as an enterprise fund. All revenues are put back” into BIA operations.
“Generally speaking, the airport is in a good position financially,” he said. “The previous [airport] directors, and I point to all of them, and their crews have helped position the airport to where it is now.
“That’s certainly a tribute to them and their leadership,” Caruso said.
“Certainly I would be remiss if I did not mention the city leadership as well,” he said. “They’ve been fully supportive of the airport. The current city council continues to be very supportive. We’ve re-established the Airport Committee.”
While pleased with the positive trends at BIA, Caruso noted that challenges exist. Bangor currently lacks direct connections to Boston and Chicago, and “the reduction in military flights remains a concern for us,” he said.
“We will continue to look at rising fuel costs and how that will impact the airlines” that now use BIA, Caruso said. He expressed his concern about the airlines’ potential response to their Bangor service if fuel prices increase too much.
“We will continue to advertise and market our other key business segments to help support the operation of the airfield,” Caruso said.