MANCHESTER — Growing demand for general aviation hangar space at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has fueled a $3 million expansion project by Wiggins Airways, the fixed-base operator servicing commercial and noncommercial flights.
A foundation has been laid and the steel will soon arrive in anticipation of an Oct. 7 groundbreaking for a new, 23,240-square-foot hangar, with much of the space already committed, according to Wiggins President and CEO James H. Thomforde.
“We have been successful in keeping our hangars full in spite of the difficult economy,” he said. Two of the three existing Wiggins hangars are occupied by corporate or private aircraft that operate out of the Manchester airport, while the third is used primarily for transient, noncommercial air traffic.
“We have a couple tenants in line to go into the new hangar as soon as we’re done, which will help us improve our revenues for hangar rentals and fuel sales,” Thomforde said. “We’re confident from some surveys we’ve done that we can bring in a couple more over the course of the next six months.”
The Wiggins property at the airport is comprised of three hangars attached to a general aviation terminal and corporate offices. The company also operates a fueling and de-icing facility for commercial aircraft at the other end of the airport. The new hangar, built by Pro Con Construction of Manchester, will be attached to the north end of the existing general aviation complex, on approximately a half-acre that’s already part of the Wiggins lease.
Wiggins employs about 145 with annual sales of more than $25 million. The expansion at the general aviation facility will not require any additional hiring. “Our employee numbers will not go up,” Thomforde said. “The existing people here will be able to deal with it.”
The company has been the largest private investor in the airport since opening its first hangar in 1997, having spent $7 million on its existing buildings and $5 million on fueling facilities, with another $3 million project in the works. It was family owned until 1984, when an employee stock trust was created transferring ownership to the employees.
Thomforde said Manchester-Boston has become a preferred site for private and corporate aviation because of its commercial quality runways, 24/7 operation, international customs and maintenance facilities.
“We’ve worked hard on our own, with our fuel supplier and with the airport management to attract aviation here,” he said. “I don’t have the figures on corporate flying nationally, but we’ve been able to attract them here.”
Over the years, Wiggins hangars, with their vast floor space, have been used for more than just aircraft storage. In August, Wiggins hosted a replica of the “Memphis Belle,” a WWII vintage B-17 bomber, and a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth. “We make the facility available as we can, in cooperation with our tenants, for certain nonprofit affairs,” Thomforde said.
Deputy Airport Director Brian O’Neill said the expansion will benefit the airport and its general aviation business. “Wiggins Airways is a world-class operation,” he said. “We’re very supportive of this project and thrilled they’ve decided to expand.”