PCA’s Shortcut To The World From Pease
The fixed base operator at the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease (identifier KPSM) displays an interesting phrase on the side of their fuel trucks… observing that Pease is a “shortcut to the world”. Port City Air (PCA) is the FBO that serves the airport, and manages a wide variety of air traffic activity, including a home base for dozens of aircraft, a convenient stopover point on longer flights, or as a useful New Hampshire destination that’s close to Boston MA and Portland ME. Let’s look at this interesting slice of aviation life in New Hampshire…
On a recent two-day period in March, Port City Air juggled multiple scheduled and unscheduled airline flights, including Allegiant Air service to Florida, a non-scheduled Department of Defense (DOD) charter flight heading home from Europe, plus two more non-scheduled Boeing 737 charters… one of which was travelling between Europe and Miami FL. Corporate jet stopovers included a Hawker 125, a Falcon 900, and Cessna Citations. Plane Sense is a fractional ownership company based on the field, and several of their fleet of thirty-plus Pilatus PC-12s were busily coming and going. Other general aviation activity included a sleek Columbia 400, an MU-2, and a Beech 36 turbine conversion. One of New Hampshire Helicopter’s Robinson R-44 rotorcraft worked in the local area too.
Most of the New Hampshire Air National Guard’s (NHANG) KC-135R tankers, normally based at the north end of the field, were away. One of their gray jets did fly a mission, and a pair of tankers from other states’ squadrons were parked on the ANG ramp. An Air Force C-32 jet transport, although not based at Pease, made a series of practice approaches. What drew a crowd of photographers, hobbyists and curious passersby were the eight Italian Air Force Typhoon fighter jets, two C-130s and two KC-767 tankers that overnighted at Pease, and then departed for their next destination across the Atlantic Ocean as they made their way home from a Red Flag exercise in Nevada.
The foreign military traffic is somewhat unusual, but according to Paul Ringuette, the Military Operations Specialist at PCA, “We have several hundred military flights per year.” While the New Hampshire Air National Guard serves some military transient aircraft, PCA has a DOD fuel contract that allows the company to service military flights. Many of their line workers are retired from military service and are quite knowledgeable about the idiosyncrasies of servicing military trainers, transports, fighters and bombers. PCA assists military users to complete their missions “from crew rests (tech stops) to regional units coming in to fulfill their training requirements” Mr. Ringuette added.
Pease is well poised to handle military operations. Originally a civilian airfield built before World War II, its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean – it sits just a mile or so from the coastline – resulted in the U.S. Navy taking over operations during that War and continued to use it until the mid-1950s, when the location was identified as a prime location for Strategic Air Command B-47 Stratojet bombers. Pease sits closer to Europe as almost every other conterminous U.S. air base, and the Cold War required that bombers had to respond immediately to an eastern Europe crisis overseas. The rebuilt Portsmouth Air Force Base was opened in June, 1956, and was renamed the Pease AFB the following year, after Plymouth, New Hampshire’s native son Captain Harl Pease. He posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions while piloting a stricken bomber in the Pacific Theatre during the early days of World War II.
Since the mid-1950s, the base has been home for Air Force KC-97 and KC-135 tankers, along with B-47, B-52 and FB-111 bombers. In 1966, the NHANG moved to the base, transitioning through C-124 and C-130 transports and ultimately into their current-mission KC-135 aircraft. Due to the Base Realignment and Closure decisions made in late 1988, the active Air Force left Pease AFB, and the base closed on the last day of March, 1991.
Although the ANG activity remained, most of the land and buildings were transferred to the civilian Pease Development Authority (PDA). The following year, the PDA had the airport certified for civilian use, and Pan Am Airways began air carrier and FBO operations. The airport sits between Boston and Portland, and was in a good spot to attract low-fare airlines that avoided the higher costs of those already-established airports. Pan Am’s operations ended, and the current Port City Air began operating as the airport’s FBO in 2003. Today, PCA pumps millions of gallons of aviation fuels each year and services hundreds of flights annually.
For the past decade or so, military-chartered air carrier flights have operated through Pease, bringing troops to and from deployments across the Atlantic Ocean. Some weeks have seen three or four charters come through, and PCA manages each flight. Paul Ringuette adds: “We provide all ground handling, fuel and transportation services for the troop flights. The Pease Greeters are a huge benefit as well as each and every troop flight is greeted by dozens of welcomers who give each solider a big welcome celebration”. The Pease Greeters are an all-volunteer organization that began meeting troop flights in 2005, and is closing in on its 1,000th flight greeted in early 2016. The “Greeters” welcome the foreign crews too, including the Italians and other NATO allies that train in the U.S..
As the airport sits about half-way between Europe and the U.S. West Coast, Pease is a natural stopover for aircraft making the trip between continents. It also is a great geographically-located stopover point for flights to Florida from Europe too. Mr. Ringuette explains that Pease “is a large hub for North Atlantic tech stops as we are open 24/7. Our runway is 11,321 feet long and can accommodate any sized aircraft. We have a tremendous amount of ground handling equipment as we need to be ready for any sized aircraft coming in scheduled or diverting into KPSM”. He adds that both the ATC tower and PCA never close, and Customs service is available on request 24/7.
Irregular flights that use the airport have included Boeing’s Large Cargo Aircraft – a 747 named the “Dreamlifter” that is modified to carry components of their B-787 jets from different worldwide factories to the U.S. for final fitting. Antonov A-124 large cargo jets have made technical stops both day and night. Corporate jets, from Gulfstreams to Airbus and Boeing business jets, stop in for service. PCA’s business has some unique benefits for flyers too. Paul explains: “The airport has an infrastructure and is in a prime location for Trans-Atlantic Tech Stops. We don’t currently handle the volume of traffic that Bangor or Boston handles and that allows us to provide a high level of personal service to each aircraft/crew that comes in. Our fuel pricing is the most aggressive in the Northeast, and we do a tremendous amount of “lobstah” and seafood runs. These runs are when crews request certain seafood and we have these ready and boxed up for them for their departure. Our proximity to the seacoast is only minutes away and we literally are able to get seafood coming right off the boats in Kittery Maine. It’s a nice service that we get many requests on.”
PCA uses a combination of hangars left from the Air Force Base days and a newly-built facility to house the “dozens of aircraft ranging from Gulfstream 650s down to single engine fixed wings” as Paul Ringuette describes those aircraft based at Pease. “There is one flight school on the field managed by Seacoast Helicopters, they do [both] fixed and rotatory training.” Aircraft maintenance and modifications are done in the new hangar building that houses offices, meeting rooms, and lounges too.
Allegiant Air operates a series of flights to Florida from Pease’s air terminal. MD-80 and A-320 jets operate between Pease and Ft. Lauderdale, Punta Gorda and Orlando. After the Air Force left the airport, both Pan Am and Skybus Airlines had operated scheduled service from Pease, but ceased operations some years ago.
Twenty five years after the Air Force left, the future of the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease seems secure. The NHANG’s 157th Air Refueling Wing has recently been chosen to receive the first ANG KC-46A Pegasus tanker jets, and administer the entire ANG’s training program at Pease. Scheduled airline service, an important geographic location for servicing international flight operations, plenty of military, general aviation and corporate flight activity, and a training operation make up a diverse aviation community at the airport. Port City Air finds itself firmly in the middle of the servicing needs of all these participants. And as PCA notes, Pease truly provides many flyers a “shortcut to the world”.
Special thanks to Paul Ringuette for talking the time to answer my questions and show me his facility. What an interesting job you have!