TRENTON — It’s a good bet that passengers will find the newly expanded waiting area at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport a lot more comfortable than it once was.

The Federal Aviation Administration has put more than $2.5 million toward the passenger terminal’s expansion and renovation. The FAA also committed $68,553 to repaint markings, used for visual guidance to pilots on the ground, on runways and taxiways.

The airport is a vital link both for residents and for Acadia National Park/Mount Desert Island tourists. Currently, two 33-seat Saab 340 turboprops and a nine-seat Cessna 402 fly to and from Boston several times on most summer days.

“Typically, smaller ‘outstation’ airports like this one try to connect passengers to a major hub so they can go anywhere in the world,” said airport manager Brad Madeira.

Passenger demographics depend on time of year. Tourism boosts business for the high season, mid-May through mid-October and beyond. Outside of that, the customer base is general local—folks going on vacation or traveling for business.

Pre-9/11, the terminal was plenty big enough to accommodate the relatively small numbers of passengers awaiting flights at any given time of day.

But new Department of Homeland Security measures meant more passenger screening. The old waiting area was partitioned into a pre-screened “non-sterile” area and a “sterile” area where screened passengers await flights. That sterile area is an 8-foot by 10-foot “little glass box,” as Madeira put it.

“The addition will have a large passenger waiting area, which will give our passengers a nice place to have a seat, have a refreshment, and enjoy the view,” he said. “It should be a substantial enhancement to what we’re able to offer the community.”

The history of the airport—once a basic dirt strip—goes back to the 1930s, when it was owned by the town of Bar Harbor. During World War II, the U.S. Navy installed three asphalt runways and a seaplane ramp.

Bar Harbor retained ownership until the 1960s, when the town sold the airport for a dollar to Hancock County. The county gradually built up the facility. The airport today is fully self-supporting.

“Even though the county owns the airport, taxpayers don’t pay for it through local taxation,” said Madeira. Taxpayers also are not billed for any portion of improvement projects.

“That’s unique,” he said. “If you look around the state, there are not a lot of airports of this size operating without any assistance from taxation.”

The current terminal was built in 1976. Structurally, the building is in good shape. Recently installed air conditioning units have excess capacity; the roof was recently rebuilt; the post-and-beam wood structure remains in good condition; the basement already has capacity for expansion of its climate-control system; and the front can easily and inexpensively be modified for a facelift.

But the building proved to be sorely under capacity, and the floor plan didn’t facilitate flow of movement. It also was not energy-efficient.
With input from Madeira, the team includes consulting and engineering firm Hoyle, Tanner & Associates; Lewis Malm Architecture; mechanical engineering firm Lanpher Associates ; and contractor Nickerson & O’Day.

According to Madeira’s project report, “The expansion will nearly double the size of the building, include a secure area with restrooms, be logical and intuitive for [passengers finding their way], increase the efficiency and use of the existing building, include several areas for increased airport revenue generation “¦ and, very importantly, accomplish all of this within our budget.”

FAA is funding 90 percent; 5 percent each comes from the Maine Department of Transportation and the airport’s operations budget.

Construction began September 2013 and is expected to wrap up this fall. Some renovation in the original building will likely begin in September.