Open flight school, open airport

December 8, 2009

Andover Flight AcademyLooking to expand your flight school to a second location? Why not open an airport? It seems like a crazy prospect, but that’s just what the owners of North Andover Flight Academy in Lawrence, Mass., did recently.

As one of the school owners was staking out a new location in upstate New York, he drove past “this overgrown airport,” according to chief flight instructor Curt Peredina. The flight school owner approached the owner of the privately owned, public-use airport, who agreed to lease it to the school. Now Maxson Airfield (89N) in Alexandria Bay, N.Y., is open with a flight school, a maintenance shop, and fuel for transients.

“As soon as the locals saw us up there, they brought their tractors, bush hogs, and food,” said Peredina. “They were just happy to see the airport open.”

And the local nonpilots weren’t the only ones happy to see the airport open. Within a few days of opening for business, a fleet of single-engine airplanes came in and gave their thanks for the airport reopening. The flight school business is booming in a down economy. North Andover Flight Academy only offers rotorcraft training, and despite a sparse population base, students are already training hard. “One guy was traveling to Connecticut to train,” said Peredina.

For now the school will get by with two Robinson helicopters through the winter. But come summer they hope to cash in on a lucrative tourist business with sightseeing flights of the local area.

Reopening the airport is the latest in a series of unique steps for the school, which is seeking to become the first in the country with an FAA-approved FITS curriculum.