Turners Falls Municipal Airport expansion likely topic for winter Town Meeting

  • Pioneer Aviation’s hangar at the Turners Falls Municipal Airport. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2020 2:36:47 PM

MONTAGUE — The proposed purchase of a 10-acre lot next to the Turners Falls Municipal Airport that Manager Bryan Camden says would make the airport self-sufficient and ensure its long-term viability is expected to come before Special Town Meeting voters later this winter.

If Town Meeting voters approve, Montague will help to finance a deal estimated to be worth about $1.5 million.

The 10-acre property, which is currently owned by Pioneer Aviation, notably includes a flight school called Fly Pioneer Valley. It also includes a maintenance facility and a fueling station, which Camden said are equally critical to the viability of the airport.

If the property sells to a non-aviation company — and the flight school, maintenance and fueling operations all close — it would very likely be the beginning of the end of the Turners Falls Municipal Airport, Camden said.

“I would bet my job on that,” he said.

Alternatively, buying the property would allow the airport to incorporate those businesses as revenue sources. In the plan that Camden has discussed with the Selectboard, the expected revenue would make the airport totally self-sufficient within two years.

The airport is less financially dependent on the town than it has been in the past, but hasn’t totally separated yet. This year, the airport received $1,400 from the town, Camden explained.

The total project cost, including the purchase and some facility upgrades, is estimated at about $1.5 million.

About 95 percent of that cost would be reimbursed by government grants, Camden said. Typically, he said, the Federal Aviation Administration covers about 90 percent of a purchase like this, and about 5 percent is covered by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division. The last 5 percent would be the town and airport’s responsibility.

The deal that the airport is proposing to Town Meeting voters is that the town would somehow help with financing the purchase, likely by taking on debt. This would provide the up-front cash for the purchase, of which 95 percent would be covered once the government grants pay out. The last 5 percent would probably be paid by the airport over several years, with the town essentially serving as a guarantor. However, the exact details of the financial arrangement have not been determined, Camden noted.

The $1.5 million project would include upgrades to the facilities, like making the fueling station self-service and open 24 hours, Camden said.

The revenue of the Pioneer Aviation businesses will not only make the airport self-sufficient, Camden said, but will also provide a cash flow that can be tapped to fund future capital improvement projects without appealing to the town.

“This property would bring us well into positive revenue,” Camden said. “It’s going to give us a lot of financial stability down the road.”

The timetable for the project, if Town Meeting voters approve, is to aim for finishing the legal and financial work this spring, so that the airport has the property in-hand before the summer’s busy flight season, Camden said.

The next Town Meeting will likely be in January or February. Notably, the Selectboard and Town Administrator Steve Ellis are discussing possibilities for holding the meeting remotely, via some online video-conferencing software.

Informational meetings and question and answer sessions on the airport’s proposal will likely be held before the Special Town Meeting. Considering the airport’s past financial reliance on the town, Camden said he expects some skepticism on its ability to become self-sufficient.

Reach Max Marcus at
mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.


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