Planes sit near the runway at Brunswick Executive Airport on the former U.S. Navy base. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

While Brunswick Executive Airport has never had commercial flights, town leaders see immeasurable financial potential in the new U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility that will come to the airport.

Around half a million dollars in federal funds from a congressional budget bill signed by President Joe Biden on Tuesday will go toward designing and planning a new border protection facility inside the airport that is expected to be operational by 2025 or 2026.

The addition of the facility to the Brunswick airport — which primarily sees private and charter flights — could bring new economic opportunities for the town and surrounding communities in a region with close connections to Europe and Canada. The new building will allow international visitors to go through customs at Brunswick airport.

Currently, someone who wants to fly into Brunswick first needs to clear customs at another American airport, said Kristine Logan, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority which owns and operates the airport.

The new facility will especially help international travelers who are working with local businesses as well as nearby Bowdoin College, which has students and other visitors coming in at the airport, she said. The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority also hopes that the customs presence will encourage businesses to forge new relationships with international partners.

Logan hopes the addition will allow Brunswick to become a refueling spot for international travelers. It could especially cater to Canadians as well as European travelers coming into Maine — the closest state in the U.S. to Europe — after flying over the Atlantic.

“For business attraction for us, it would be a definite benefit,” Logan said. “And a real asset for the state as well.”

Cory King, director of the Brunswick-based Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber, said the customs facility could be a “game-changer” for attracting businesses, including those that could relocate in the town.

“The tourism industry, and coastal business, are always hoping to attract the high-end consumer,” King said. “You have to imagine that a development like this could lead to exactly that kind of consumer.”

While the town of Brunswick has not been involved in the customs facility effort, town council chair James Mason said the effort sounded promising for bringing new jobs and businesses to Brunswick. He praised the efforts of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, calling it a “great partner.”

“They are not simply saying we can be a hub for businesses in Maine – we can be a hub for businesses around the globe,” Mason said.

The funds came to the Brunswick airport after they were requested by U.S. Sen. Angus King, who has long lived in the town. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins have also supported the airport’s efforts, Logan said.

King called the airport a “key contributor” to Maine’s economy and a vital resource for small businesses and residents across the midcoast.

“This congressionally-directed spending is an important first step to help [the airport] design a Customs and Border Protection facility that will help expand international business, encourage cross-border tourism and boost the local economy,” King said.

“I’m glad the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and BXM have received these funds, and look forward to seeing their continued work on this ongoing project.”

The airport is the former site of the Naval Air Station Brunswick, and opened shortly after the military decommissioned the base in 2011. Its 8,000-foot operating runway is among the longest in Maine, surpassing the primary runway at Portland International Jetport.

Brunswick Executive Airport is already pretty busy and expects more traffic to come from the new customs facility, Logan said. It sees around 25,000 planes coming in and out a year, more traffic than when the U.S. Navy operated it.

She said the five flight schools on the airport campus had attracted customers, as had the maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities.

“Our niche really seems to be for these small general aviation aircraft,” Logan said.

However, Logan said there were no plans to bring commercial flights to the airport anytime soon. Besides the steps required to begin commercial flights, she also doesn’t want to compete with the Portland Jetport. However, she didn’t dismiss it for the airport’s far future.

“Who knows what will be 10 years down the road and what we feel the airport can handle,” Logan said.