If Rocky said they would fly, they’d fly: Cape Air Station Manager retires after 60 years
OWLS HEAD — Cape Air Station Manager Rocky Stenger, Jr., is set to retire after serving Cape Air, its predecessors and the airport for 60 years. His final day will be November 12. It is a big change for the Knox County Regional Airport community.
“I’ve watched him interact with passengers and he gives confidence,” said Bill Packard, who owns and operates the Budget and Avis car rental services at the airport. “Some folks are not comfortable flying in a small plane. Rocky reassures them without them realizing what he’s doing. He makes it seem so matter of fact, that they relax and have a better flight. The reality is that people like Rocky work hard to make those flights seem matter of fact and without them, the commuter flying experience would be much more stressful.”
Stenger grew up at the airport, and has seen its evolution and growth over the decades — a lot of changes, but not a lot of changes, he said.
“My father came here in the early 1960s as the airport manager,” said Stenger. “I was just a kid and found various jobs to do. Cape Air didn’t come in until 2008, but I was the station manager for Colgan Air before that, and a couple of little airlines before that. I have been pretty much been working the same job since the early 1980s.”
In the early 1990s, the bank MBNA arrived in the Midcoast, first in Camden, and then it spread operations to Rockland and Belfast. It was a major economic force, and flights increased.
MBNA helped the airport develop the instrument landing system and lengthen the runways,” said Stenger.
The airport itself has served the community with convenient transportation to Boston, “and that’s the way it’s been all along,” he said. “It’s always been our destination hub.”
And the biggest change?
“Probably the ability to come and go with the bad weather,” he said, crediting the instrument landing system.
The Knox County Airport was originally a military base.
“The airport was built, as were a series of airports,” said Stenger. “All along the Eastern Seaboard and they began ferrying airplanes over to the European war. Brunswick, Rockland, Bar Harbor and maybe Eastport were all emergency airstrips for the military for the planes that were flying back and forth.”
Fighter pilots were trained at the Owls Head airport during World War II.
These days, Cape Air is getting ready to take its next step in aviation with electrically-powered aircraft. And, Penobscot Island Air is looking at electric drones to fly freight to the islands.
Stenger knows the lineage of the airlines well. Downeast Air was sold to Bar Harbor Airlines, which went through a succession to Colgan Air and then Cape Air.
“I don’t have a long history at the airport, but during my time, Rocky was Cape Air,” said Packard.
“Rocky is matter of fact,” he said. “These are the rules to fly and you need to follow the rules. Don’t think that since you fly out of a little airport in Owls Head, you can do what you want. We’ve flown a few times out of there and when it’s time to board the plane, Rocky assigns the seats. Even though we’re neighbors and work together, I would never ask for a special seat. We leave the waiting area and Rocky scans the passengers. Small plane. Weight distribution is important. He looks at me and says, ‘You sit in the copilot’s seat.’ I don’t argue.”
Being on the coast of Maine, the airport sees a variety of weather.
“Rocky was pretty much dead on whether planes would fly or not,” said Packard.
“He’d call and ask; Do you have cars? Tomorrow’s early flight is not going to go. And it didn’t. The opposite was true. We would get customers who would book a car in case Cape Air didn’t fly. We’d ask them what Rocky said and they would reply that he said they would fly. We’d tell the customer, they will fly.”
Everyone is going to miss Stenger.
“Life goes on,” said Packard. “There will be a new station manager. He or she will do fine or get replaced. They will not be another Rocky. They can’t be.”
Stenger said he likes it here and has no plans to move once he retires.
“I’m looking forward to a winter,” Stenger said. “It’s been a great career and I’m looking forward to retirement. That should be the last paragraph.”
Reach Chris Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org