Knox County Regional Airport, located in Owls Head. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

Pilots that serve the island communities of Penobscot Bay will soon have new living quarters at the Knox County Regional Airport.

Knox County Commissioners approved spending about $1 million on a new facility that will provide space for Penobscot Island Air to lease so its pilots have a place to stay while working for the airline. The facility will also provide space where airport staff could rest during periods of extended work.

At a special meeting Wednesday morning, commissioners approved entering into a $1,138,878 contract with Hermon-based DP Porter Contractors for construction of the facility. The county is paying for the project with federal funding the airport received through the CARES Act last year.

The new 2,000-square-foot facility will replace an aging building that Penobscot Island Air has leased on airport property as housing for its pilots for the past 10 or 15 years, according to Knox County Regional Airport Manager Jeremy Shaw.

Penobscot Island Air provides services to seven islands in the region, including Matinicus, Criehaven, Vinalhaven, North Haven, Islesboro, Swan’s Island and Isle Au Haut. In total, about 2,800 people inhabit the islands, according to 2020 Census data, though the populations increase significantly during the summer months.

Aside from providing charter flights and freight services to the islands, the airline also provides medevac flight services when an emergency occurs on one of the islands.

Since many pilots that the airline employs either work seasonally, or are from other parts of the country or state, Shaw said it’s essential for them to have access to housing as close to the airport as possible.

“Finding a job as a pilot is difficult enough but then also finding lodging is very difficult,” Shaw said. “That is why [Penobscot Island Air] and the county established this relationship to be able to provide housing for their pilots because we are really the ones that are servicing the island communities.”

With the current building used for housing the pilots at 10 Benner Lane being in disrepair, Shaw said the only option was to tear down the structure and start from scratch.

The new facility will have a four bedroom unit on one side ― which is the portion of the building Penobscot Island Air will lease ― and a smaller living space on the other side. This two-bedroom space could serve multiple purposes, Shaw said.

The space could serve as a rest area for airport staff when they’re working long shifts, such as during a snowstorm and the ensuing snow removal process. The county is also exploring the possibility of having the space available for per diem rentals when emergency medical personnel from one of the islands has to come over to the mainland with a resident during an emergency and need to stay overnight.

“[Penobscot Island Air] does over 300 medevacs a year to the islands. Sometimes they require medical staff to be brought [to the mainland] with the patient and sometimes if the medical staff is not able to go over to the island immediately, they have to find a hotel,” Shaw said.

Demolition of the existing structure is scheduled for October and then construction on the new facility will begin. Shaw estimated that the facility will be completed in about five or six months.

During construction, Penobscot Island Air will be renting space at a nearby inn for their pilots, Shaw said.