CLAREMONT -- A potential boost in air traffic at the Claremont Municipal Airport has the airport board of directors and city officials excited about a new hangar that will be built using federal money.
The airport has enough hangar space to put about a dozen planes under cover, but over the past two years another 12 names have been put on a waiting list for the next available spot. That list may represent a potential upswing in the facility's revenue, but the money will remain in a holding pattern until those pilots can use the site as they wish, according to Roger Hamel a fixed base operator for the airport.
To accommodate more traffic the airport will add a new, six-plane hangar this fall using a $499,000 grant that combines money from the Federal Aviation Administration, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and the city.
"It's called an airport improvement program and normally it's not for increasing revenue," Tricia Lambert, senior aviation planner for the DOT said.
Funds from the program are most often used for safety improvements and maintenance items to ensure compliance with FAA regulations, Lambert said.
The facilities at the Claremont airfield have been improved over the last several years in accordance with federal guidelines, and Lambert said it reflects well on the city that it is able to use the money to work toward increased profits.
"You can't do projects such as this if you have other issues," Lambert said.
The airport is on the verge of becoming self-sustaining. Revenue projections for this year cover $54,000 of the $66,000 budget, but city officials are already looking beyond break-even and intend to market the airport as a tool for development.
Business Development Coordinator Nancy Merrill expects to begin touting the airport to business owners as a convenient transportation option. As it is now, the airport gets a mix of recreational and business use.
"I've picked up Alex Ray and Rusty McLear out there," Merrill said. They are two of the developers expected to overhaul three vacant mill buildings in the downtown.
The number of airplanes at the field is not entirely representative of the number of people using the facility, Hamel said. Many of the planes that rent hangar space are jointly owned. One of planes stored there is owned by five partners, Hamel said.
Dr. David Russo is one such pilot who co-owns a single-engine four-seater at the airport. Since 1985, Russo and two partners have stored their plane at the Claremont Municipal Airport. While he is primarily a recreational pilot, Russo said the airport is well situated in an industrial area to accommodate business flyers.
"That's ideally how an airport should be used," Russo said. "With a commercial interest and a municipal interest." An informal guest book sits in the airport's main hangar for visiting pilots to sign, but Hamel said beyond that there's no record of air traffic. The city's Web site estimates 500 aircraft use the facility each year.
City Manager Guy Santagate said the airport has been underutilized as a business tool in the city, but the level of interest is growing. Investing in the site with grant programs makes sense for the city in both the short term and the long term, he said. Federal money accounts for 95 percent of the $499,000 grant while the state and the city split the remaining 5 percent.
"Every dollar we spend up there, we put in 2.5 cents," Santagate said. "I like that."
The City Council set aside plans to get federal funding for the project, but a new proposal could surface in coming weeks.
Some pilots say the two-month closure was abrupt and poorly handled.
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