MACHIAS, Maine — A local pilot has established a new business, Take Flight, that will be providing gasoline service, transportation for pilots, contract maintenance and general aircraft assistance at the Machias Valley Airport — services that have been nonexistent here for more than a decade.
Michael St. Louis, former chief deputy for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday that his future plans include becoming the fixed base operator at the small airport “to provide an economic avenue for the town of Machias.”
St. Louis is a local pilot with a plane based in Machias and commander of the Machias Civil Air Patrol chapter at the airport. He said he will have his commercial license by late August and will then offer scenic flights and air taxi service to and from the Bar Harbor airport. “There are quite a few vacationers that need to get to their lake properties in this area,” he said. “I can pick them up and fly right onto the lake and drop them at their dock.”
Machias selectmen praised the move that was announced in a letter from St. Louis during their regular meeting Wednesday night. “This is great news and has great potential,” Selectman Danny Manchester said. “I hope we’ll see more activity out there.”
Town Manager Chris Loughlin said Thursday that the last time the airport offered any type of service was in the 1990s.
“Gas was offered by the Machias Aviation Club, a private group of citizens,” he said. “There was a pay phone out at the airport along with a list of names and a pilot would just keep calling people on the list until he could get someone to come out.”
There also was a bicycle left on site for anyone who needed to get the half mile into town for a meal or a motel room.
St. Louis said Thursday that he is offering his services to both pilots using the airport and seaplane pilots. Until he becomes the fixed base operator, St. Louis cannot install permanent gas fixtures at the airport. Until that happens, he has a mobile gas pump installed on his cargo-sized truck and will bring the gas to the airport customer or dockside for a seaplane.
The aircraft maintenance, pilot ground transportation and other services also are currently available. A sign at the airport provides his contact information.
St. Louis began flying in 1998 and said that establishing this business “has always been one of my dreams.” He said that there are four year-round planes based at the airport but that during the summer months, anywhere between five and 15 planes come in each week. “Many of these are business people looking to invest in this area,’’ he said.
The Machias facility has no tower and a short, 2,900 foot runway that can only accommodate single-engine aircraft. Over the last 10 years, based on a $160,000 federally-funded study, six sites were identified for a possible regional airport. But public opposition centered on a “not in my backyard” attitude that caused the entire plan for such a regional airport to be scrapped.
Loughlin said that in the past decade Machias has lost tie-up revenue from three or four planes because the pilots chose to use Eastport or Bar Harbor as their base. “The drive to get there was longer but those airports provide services,” he said.
Harold Clossey, executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council, based in Machias, said Thursday that any expansion at the airport could become a catalyst for future economic development.
“Any community that adds to its transportation infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, airports and ports, brings economic benefits to itself and surrounding communities,” Clossey said.
Maine Department of Transportation data for 36 publicly owned airports indicates that they provide 21,000 jobs and have a local economic impact of $1.5 billion annually.
Clossey said any expansion of services at Machias Valley Airport is good news for the area. “It can be very useful to the bigger companies and the blueberry industry, seasonal visitors, and sportsmen,” he said.
Already local businesses have shown a need and a desire to use the airport, Loughlin said.
“The (Downeast Community) Hospital had a training seminar a few years ago and they hired a private plane to bring their folks here. We definitely would like to see more of this commercial type of use,” the town manager said.
But hobbyists also can provide an economic boon, he added.
“Typically in the summer we see two or three planes out there,” Loughlin said. Those people are vacationing or staying in the area. They are spending money on rentals, groceries, gas. They certainly are supporting the local economy.’’
In 2011, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration jointly developed a $1.2 million Capital Improvement Plan for the airport, intended to be implemented over five years. Already an assessment of the area to remove obstructions (bushes and trees) has been accomplished. This summer crack sealing of the runway and an assessment of the runway’s base for future reconstruction will be done.
In future years, easements and permits will be obtained to remove obstructing trees and the runway will be reconstructed. Loughlin said the FAA will pay 90 percent of the costs, MDOT will pay 5 percent and Machias will be responsible for 5 percent.