HIGHGATE — His wings have been in the air for years, but this year, former insurance executive Kevin Dwyer is putting his shoulders to the proverbial wheel as Border Air Ltd.’s new co-owner alongside longtime manager Cliff Coy.
“I know that he is a very meticulous, organized person,” Coy said of his new business partner. “I can see it in the way he organizes his plane, his tool box ... that he has a process already in his head about how to do something, rather than just walking up with a piece of paper and a pencil and flying by the seat of his pants.”
And the pair have big plans for Franklin County State Airport, which is managed by Border Air. From Thursday night fly-ins with food trucks to family events and flight days, Dwyer and Coy said they’re going to resurrect the space and breathe new life into it as a central hub where anyone can come to spend time, watch the planes and maybe even learn to fly.
“The skills and training you need to be a mechanic are not the skills and training you need to run a good business,” Coy said. “I’d recognized for awhile that I’m a pretty awesome mechanic ... I know from my experiences with Kevin, having him as a customer and because he’s been around the airport for awhile, he does have some (business) experience.”
How the business partners met
The Coy family took over the airport in 1993, a place where Coy’s blooming talent for flying and engineering ended up earning him his pilot’s license, mechanic’s license, and creating a synonymous bond between flying and the Coy name.
Years ago, Dwyer was a local veteran with a history in insurance and management looking to buy his first float plane — a plane that can land on the water. So, he called Cliff to inspect his pick: a Cessna 172 XP on floats.
“I was a pilot in the military,” Dwyer recalled. “But I wanted to start flying for myself ... I wanted to keep the plane here, and I asked him if he would be my mechanic, and help me learn things and be patient with me, and he said yes. I got this sense from his demeanor that he’s that kind of guy.”
What began years ago blossomed into a friendship both on the air and on the ground. Dwyer got his commercial pilot’s license, and could be regularly found at the Border Air hangar with Coy and the other members of the Border Air crew, as well as anyone earning their hours toward their own set of wings.
In February, after one of Dwyer’s routine offers to help out in any way, Coy casually mentioned that, if he was interested, Dwyer could move in as a business partner and buy half of the family business.
“I was like, are you serious?” Dwyer said. “There’s tremendous potential here right now ... the infrastructure will be drastically improved.”
Coy most definitely was serious, and beginning on March 1, Dwyer settled into his new role as co-owner of Border Air Ltd as the head of operations.
Plans for the future
Both Dwyer and Coy agree that the potential addition of water and sewer from Swanton, a proposed runway extension in 2023 and the overall expansion of the airport are factors in the duo’s plans. During the governor’s budget address earlier this year, $1 million in funding was announced “to support a major infrastructure project at the Highgate airport and industrial area.”
A project that would extend water lines 6,300 feet from Missisquoi Valley Union High School to the airport to coincide with airport expansion is currently in the planning phases.
Coy recalled the days when the airport hosted massive musical festivals drawing people from multiple states away to see the likes of Alanis Morrisette, the Grateful Dead and Phish in the ‘90s and 2000s.
Currently, 85 airplanes call the airport home, and many of them are privately owned, Coy said.
“When you go to the boat launch up in Swanton, there’s picnic tables there,” Coy said. “Because it’s someplace that you would actually go to to enjoy yourself. Having someone to be able to help me and assist me with that ... we’re going to make this airport a much more enjoyable place to be.”
Transforming the airport into a destination and bolstering the sense of community pride they plan to won’t happen overnight, but with another shoulder at the wheel, both Coy and Dwyer said they’re excited for the days ahead, to get to work and to build.
“It’s not good to have the same skills as your partner,” said Dwyer, who previously logged 20 years in the insurance business. “They should be complimentary, but they should not be the same.”