Give an airport back to the community, and pilots will come. That’s what happened on a crystal-clear Saturday morning in June when Maine’s former Naval Air Station Brunswick opened for business as Brunswick Executive Airport.
Built and commissioned in 1943, the former NAS Brunswick housed squadrons that carried out antisubmarine warfare missions during World War II. After the war, it became an operational air station to support the U.S. fleet. It was decommissioned on May 31, 2011, as part of the federal government’s base realignment and closure process.
The sprawling facility on Maine’s coast welcomed civilian pilots for the first time on June 4. Nearly 300 aircraft landed on Brunswick Executive’s Runway 1R. Pilots and visitors wandered the expansive flight line and took the opportunity to climb inside a Kestrel, the six-seat, composite single-engine turboprop that will be built at the airport. Kestrel Aircraft Chairman Alan Klapmeier has said he expects the company will manufacture and sell up to 75 turboprops a year (see “ Compelling Kestrel,” February 2011 AOPA Pilot).
“Brunswick Executive is already a success story,” AOPA President Craig Fuller said at the event. “It’s entirely too rare that we see new general aviation airports open—although this is the first of two new airports I will be visiting this month,” he added, referring to Austin Executive, a new reliever airport in Texas.
Brunswick’s reopening has reenergized the community, said Melissa LaCasse, sponsorship and special events coordinator for the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA), the organization that is overseeing civilian redevelopment of the base. MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said the healthy attendance of aircraft both large and small exceeded his expectations, and said it sends a signal that “Maine is open for flying business.”
Not only will the airport become a new port of call for pilots who fly across the Atlantic from Europe, it will also continue to host the Great State of Maine Air Show and Business Aviation Expo, to be held August 26 through 28. The massive airshow draws 150,000 people each year.
Aviation on a roll
The rebirth of the airport may be a harbinger of more good things to come. The legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee agreed on a budget in June that would repeal a use tax on out-of-state owners of new aircraft, and would add a sales tax exemption on aircraft sales and parts for all owners (see “ AOPA Action: GA-Friendly Budget Repeals Notorious Maine Tax,”).
The agreement is a dramatic shift for Maine, which in 2007 slapped the Massachusetts owner of a Cirrus SR22 with a nearly $26,000 tax bill because he had flown into the state 21 times in a 12-month period. In April 2011 the State Supreme Court of Maine subsequently vacated the ruling of a lower court and ordered the state tax assessor to reverse the assessment.
“Maine’s use tax had long deterred pilots from visiting the state and put it at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states in attracting new business and investment,” said Mark Kimberling, AOPA director of state government affairs. “Now, with passage of the budget, it could swiftly become one of the most GA business-friendly states in the nation.”