Although historians can trace BGR’s roots to 1927, it was not until 1968, by which time ownership had transferred to the US Air Force, that Dow Air Force Base was sold to the City of Bangor to become Bangor International Airport.
BGR has since maintained its military links, combining our role as host to the Maine Air National Guard with key transportation portal for the armed forces, while simultaneously prospering as a full-service domestic and international commercial airport, FBO, tech stop, diversion airport and home to strategically important services such as LifeFlight of Maine.
To all these stakeholders, to all our readers, and to all of those who work here at the airport, we extend a warm thank you for your continued and much valued support.
To celebrate our 50th anniversary we have produced a commemorative 48-page history of the airport, view at issuu.com/flybangor/docs/bgr-50th. If you would like a hard copy, please email email@example.com and we’ll be happy to mail it to you.
50 years and counting
Even the most visionary of Bangor City Council officials could not have foreseen the scale of change that would transform Dow Air Force Base to a commercial international airport. Previously home to the 101st Fighter Wing (which converted to a refueling wing and still shares space with the airport 50 years later) Bangor International’s key strategic location makes it unique among transatlantic tech stops for commercial, GA and military aircraft.
The announcement in 1964 by the Pentagon that Dow would close stunned Bangor city officials. But rather than wait until its closure four years later, they sought post-military potential business for the airport, acknowledging an independent report by the University of Maine College of Business Administration professors David H. Clark and John D. Coupe in 1967, who concluded “for the first time this city has something tangible to offer out-of-state developers — our airport and its buildings.”
Another who saw the airport’s potential was Dow Reuse Coordinator Peter D’Errico, subsequently BGR’s longest-serving airport manager and after whom the domestic terminal is named. He believed that the base’s geographical location could appeal to those international airlines that flew over Bangor on the North Atlantic Great Circle Route every day, saying that he would like to see Dow developed to handle this traffic.
Transatlantic passenger jets at that time carried little fuel to spare, leading Alitalia officials to note in 1967 that a US-bound flight placed on a two-hour landing hold in New York had to land and refuel at a Canadian airport, usually Halifax, although customs restrictions prevented passengers from disembarking.
Key to its initial success was the decision by BGR to offer both refueling and customs clearance from July 1968. Liking the idea, Alitalia obtained FAA approval to use Bangor as an alternate to landing at major airports and the rest, as they say, is history.
The airport’s early appeal was by no means restricted to the time-savings it offered. In 1958, an 11,400-foot runway, the
longest east of the Mississippi, had been constructed to accommodate B-52 bombers; the same runway that is used today by jet passenger aircraft, as well as the Antonov An-225, the world’s largest airplane.
The transfer of airport ownership in July 1968 was marked by a crowd of more than 1,500 people who watched the last B-52 and KC-135 take off. A local reporter described it as “an emotional moment.” The KC-135 roared over Dow from the west; the tanker’s pilots dipped one wing and a minute later the B-52 “came straight down the runway at an unbelievably low level and dipped both wings in a final salute” to Bangor and Dow.
From the 1970s into the 1990s the renamed Bangor International Airport attracted 3,000-5,000 commercial flights a year, mostly charter jets flying between Europe and the west coast of the US, or the Caribbean and Mexico. Bangor was a logical refueling stop and, as a US port of entry, passengers could go through customs and immigration checks while their plane was being serviced.
Perhaps nothing characterizes the airport’s ability to adapt more than its recovery from the aviation industry turmoil that marked the turn of the century. The shift to smaller, more economical aircraft that followed four major airline bankruptcies and two major mergers; the large reduction in profits among others; changes in passenger demand and, of course, 9/11; all impacted on airport enplanements throughout the US, including BGR, whose appeal – both to airlines and passengers – not only stemmed the decline, but took passenger numbers to their highest ever level.
The list of celebrity passengers who have flown through BGR includes awho’s who of US presidents – GeorgeW. Bush, John F.Kennedy, Lyndon B.Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, BarackObama and, more recently, President Donald J. Trump, as well as their foreign counterparts, such as President Lopez Portillo of Mexico and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Maine Troop Greeters
Of all the millions of Bangor International passengers though, none has received a warmer reception or send-off than the US servicemen and women bound for or returning from Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones.
From an impromptu gathering to welcome home 250 paratroopers returning from Kuwait in 1991 the all-volunteer, highly organized Maine Troop Greeters and Museum has evolved.
Acknowledging the sacrifice and showing their appreciation for the 1.5 million-plus US armed forces who have passed through BGR, these dedicated men and women greet every troop flight, day or night, rain or shine. Free cell phones are provided to allow a call to a loved one, as well as a snack and a handshake to let them know someone cares.
Recently the group secured a permanent home on the connector ramp linking the airport’s two terminals, where the Maine Troop Greeters Museum now houses a unique collection of nearly 6,000 challenge coins, more than 1,000 military patches and countless dog tags, banners and letters of gratitude, all serving as a lasting tribute to those who serve and those who greet them.
BGR also enjoys a reputation as the airport where diverted flights land, its location making it ideally suited for aircraft in the region faced with unexpected threats, unruly passengers, technical, medical and other crises. The airport handles around 100 such emergencies a year.
Among the more notable diversions to Bangor was a London to Washington flight in 2004 when it was discovered that passenger Yusuf Islam, better known as singer Cat Stevens, was on a government watch list and barred from entering the country.
Other well-publicized detours include a woman who mixed prescription drugs and wine before drinking liquid hand soap and attacking flight attendants on a flight from London to Los Angeles in 2009, a Scandinavian Airlines Airbus 330, whose cockpit filled with smoke in 2012, and a flight from Paris to Charlotte, North Carolina after a female passenger announced she was carrying a surgically implanted device.
“It means we’re always on our toes, prepared for whatever need arises,” says Airport Director Tony Caruso. “Given our geographic location, we are the first major airport for flights coming into the US and the last resort for outgoing flights on the Great Circle route. Pilots can depend on us to handle their aircraft and their passengers in a variety of situations.
“It’s all about teamwork, with government agencies like the TSA, Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, local law enforcement agencies, local fire department and the aircraft rescue and firefighting squad provided by the Bangor Air National Guard, which is based at the airport.”
Another strategically important service that calls Bangor International home is LifeFlight of Maine, which provides transport for critically ill patients who require emergency medical care.
Operated jointly by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and Central Maine Healthcare Corp., the independent non-profit ensures statewide access to specialized equipment, critical care nurses and paramedics.
To this end LifeFlight operates an integrated fleet of ground and air ambulances, including three helicopters and a fixed-wing Beechcraft King Air B200, which has improved all-weather capability and provides greater speed and efficiency over long distances.
Bangor Aviation Services is the airport’s wholly-owned and operated FBO, capable of handling aircraft of any size, including the world’s largest, and known for its quick turns.
For example, a G4-size aircraft can be turned in approximately 30 minutes, while a Boeing 757 requiring a full government ‘tech’ stop averages 60 minutes and a fully-loaded Boeing 747 just 90 minutes.
It’s not surprising that Bangor International is a favorite choice of pilots. Not only does its position as the closest US airport to Europe make it the most strategic option, but BGR provides a ‘onestop- shop’ for highly competitive fueling, a crew of FAA-licensed A&P mechanics, gourmet airside catering and US Customs and Border Protection.
Ground handling services include GPU, air starts, lavatory and water service, aircraft cleaning, air conditioning and heat, bottled oxygen, preheats and arrangements for airframe and power plant maintenance, while on-field aircraft maintenance services include de-icing and 24/7 dispatch services.
For those involved in air cargo, the airport is similarly well placed, especially as a gateway to Canada and the Northeast, offering 12 million sq. ft. of ramp space, 20,000 sq. ft. of heated cargo storage space and a runway that can handle the largest of commercial cargo carriers.
“With uncongested air space, an excellent weather record and world-renowned service standards, BGR is rightly acclaimed as the
transatlantic leader in tech stops,” says Caruso. “Our unique skill set has also led to the airport’s classification as an economic tech stop by Maine Maritime Academy. Their research shows that aircraft making a transatlantic crossing to or from anywhere, say, west of the Mississippi can break their flight at BGR, having taken on less fuel for the initial leg of the journey, which allows them to increase their payload by as much as 30 percent.
Refueling here, where flexible fuel arrangements and contract pricing make us the most competitive fuel supplier on the East Coast, could literally save them tens of thousands of dollars.”