Jonathan LaBonte, chairman of the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport board, stands inside the empty hangar. He said the airport is no longer in the red and has some prospective tenants.
Lewiston-Auburn airport puts biggest hangar up for sale or lease

AUBURN — Fuel sales are up, aviators say customer service is better and now the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport is in the final throes of cleaning up the financial mess left behind when Elite Airways stopped paying its obligations and left town in the summer of 2022.

At 27,000-plus square feet, Hangar No. 5 is the biggest at the airport and has been cleared out and put on the market for sale or lease, with an asking price of $3.28 million. It was built in 2008 for the Lufthansa Lockheed Starliner project, which lasted until 2018.

Elite Airways signed a lease in 2019 to make Auburn its regional maintenance hub. While some saw Elite as a key to the future, the airport board at the time was told emphatically by the aviation community at the airport not to sign a lease with Elite.

When Elite left Auburn, it abandoned equipment, property, planes and parts, most of which have been auctioned off, netting the airport more than $141,000 to help offset some of the accumulated debt.

Planes and trailers parked at Hangar No. 5 are gone, sold, repossessed, or moved across the runway from the hangar, anything with resale value plucked from the frames with remnants left that will likely be sold for scrap.

Airport board Chairman Jonathan LaBonte said the airport negotiated a contract with Regional One in Miami to sell off remaining aircraft parts from a CRJ- 200 and a CRJ-700 that were abandoned by the finance company that had been working with Elite Airways. The airport has received $60,000 in payments from that contract to date.

Just heating the empty hangar this winter to a minimum to maintain the integrity of the wet foam fire suppression system will cost the airport between $6,000 and $7,000 a month. There was also maintenance to the hangar that was deferred when Elite left and the company had several years left on its lease, which was bringing in about $120,000 a year.

The airport board is looking for short- or long-term tenants who want to set up maintenance or aviation specialty work.

LaBonte said they have some tenant prospects and inquiries, explaining that the board can approve a lease, but that if a potential buyer comes to the table, it will require the approval of both city councils, with $1.6 million still owed on the hangar.

Fuel sales for aviation gas are up 31% in fiscal 2024 over a year earlier, and jet fuel sales are up 46% for the same period.

“It’s a different place,” pilot Jim Platz said Tuesday. He agrees the atmosphere is better, customer service has improved, fuel sales are up, and safety is improved in the last year.

Platz said three years ago board member Marc Blais worked to change the board membership and the airport leadership, which has been accomplished with his term coming to a close.

Blais also said the Dirigo Aerospace Solutions fuel team is driven by customer service and not merely punching a clock, which has helped increase fuel sales – a critical source of revenue for the airport. He agrees the airport is now “going in the right direction.” Blais says he believes the airport should look to hire what he called a “working manager” in the near future, to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

“There’s activity at the airport, it’s back to normal and now we can work on our future,” Platz said. “It’s fun to go out there now. The airport is an asset to the community, the way it should be.”

LaBonte said that while they are less than halfway through the fiscal year, the airport is no longer running in the red. All in all, the prospects are much better than they were a year ago. “This airport is a significant piece of economic growth infrastructure for the region,” LaBonte said Wednesday, “and securing further private aviation investment is at the top of that list. I am very hopeful that new investment will emerge in 2024.”

Those owners, Mark and Kate McGhee, say it has turned out to be a good year for their growing business, which was forced to find a new home last November, when Twitchell Airport in Turner was sold.

“From where we sit today, I feel more confident in the future of this airport,” La- Bonte said.

Christopher Wheelock — 207- 689-2817