Business and Economy
Tue December 27, 2011
Expansion Could Give Nashua Airport Economic Boost
Some sectors of the New Hampshire economy are taking longer to rebound from the recession.
Particularly industries that rely on discretionary income, like many of the 20 small airports in the state.
Nashua’s Municipal Airport is one of the state’s oldest and busiest.
But it’s been years since this airport operated to its capacity.
Now a new $16 million construction project may give the airport the economic lift it needs.
It’s a cold, but sunny December morning at the Nashua Municipal Airport, also known as Boire Field.
Under clear blue skies, it’s a perfect day for flying.
In contrast to the jarring rev of engines you might expect to hear at an airport, the 400-acre Boire Field is eerily calm.
Airport manager Royce Rankin admits times have changed since he was an air traffic controller:
'Twenty years ago when I was doing that, we had days where we had 700 take offs and landings in a day. Now maybe 200. And that’s a busy day."
With the spike in fuel costs, recreational flying is half of what it was five years ago. And that represents 40 percent of this airport’s traffic.
"A lot of people don’t fly like they used to. Like they would used to get up on a Saturday morning and fly to Sanford, Maine, or someplace like that, just to have breakfast. You’re looking at six dollars a gallon and the airplane burns 10 gallons an hour. You’re looking at a $150 gas expense to go have breakfast."
Rankin says another 50 percent of airport traffic serves pilots in training.
Last year, when Daniel Webster College announced it would close the flight school, the airport lost a forty-year alliance.
"The anchor tenant of the airport is now gone. And that is devastating for any airport."
That’s David Price, the former dean of Daniel Webster’s aviation program. He says the Nashua airport is getting ready to turn its luck around.
Boire Field is rebuilding the existing runway, adding another 500 feet to bring it up to par with safety codes.
Federal aviation officials say that in the last decade, this is the largest general aviation airport construction project they’ve funded in New England.
The extension won’t allow bigger jets to land in Nashua. But the 6,000-foot runway will permit corporate planes to take off with enough fuel to travel across the Atlantic.
David Price says it’s a critical move for this municipal airport.
"What’s going to happen now with the extra 500 feet is that they’re going to attract a whole new clientele with the hopes of actually getting a new anchor. Had they not done the runway expansion and lost Daniel Webster College, it could have easily forced the airport to turn into a ghost town."
While business travel is only ten percent of traffic, it’s the segment that’s most likely to grow.
Business aviation contributes $150 billion to the American economy and generates more than a million jobs.
That’s according to Dean Soucier with the National Business Aviation Association.
He says commercial airlines are downsizing and cutting back on routes to some cities, that’s allowing companies that lease or service private jets to profit.
"Also, the charter companies have experienced an uptick in business. There are some Fortune 100 companies that divested themselves of their aircraft, and they just did not replace them."
Infinity Aviation services and charters planes at the Nashua airport.
Greg Lison runs the company.
He says sales have been flat for the last several years.
And he’s not expecting the extended runway to create an immediate jump in revenue. But it may help the local economy in the long term:
"There’s also a connection that can be made between industry that may want to locate a facility, a building, a factory, or something like that in the local area. And one of the things they look at is the airport."
About 30 companies provide maintenance, fuel, pilot supplies and concierge services at Boire Field.
The new $16 million runway is scheduled to be finished by September.