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July 7, 2020

Kevin Waters, whose air service connects Maine’s islands, dies unexpectedly

COURTESY / PENOBSCOT ISLAND AIR Kevin Waters, right, founded Penobscot Island Air in 2004 after another air carrier closed. He died July 5, 2020.

Kevin Waters, the owner of Penobscot Island Air who was part of the fabric of everyday life on Maine's year-round islands, died unexpectedly at his home on July 5.

The air service, which is based at Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head, announced his passing on Facebook.

“It is with great sadness we have to report that we lost a truly great man — Kevin Waters — passed away at home with his family unexpectedly,” the air service posted on its Facebook page. “I sit here struggling to put into words what this man meant to our PIA family … I can’t help but think this was expected of a man in his position … running Penobscot Island Air for so many years and being such a big part of coastal Maine he’s had plenty of opportunity to create lasting friendships.”

Penobscot Island Air offers on-demand air charter, air taxi, air shuttle and sight-seeing based from Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head. It serves the islands of midcoast Maine and beyond, according to its Facebook page. 

Waters, 62, who lived in South Thomaston with his wife Terry, started Penobscot Island Air in 2004 after Maine Aviation, where he’d been a pilot, closed.

Penobscot Island Air keeps the islands connected to the mainland, delivering U.S. mail, food, medicine and Amazon packages. In the case of Matinicus, 20 miles from the mainland, after Maine Aviation closed, residents raised $17,000 to help Waters lease a plane so he could continue to run flights to the island. 

Suzanne Rankin, a Matinicus resident, was one of five women who, in the wake of Maine Aviation's December 2004 closing, sat down at a kitchen table, looking for a way to restore air service to the island.

“We’re the most remote island on the Eastern Seaboard,” Rankin told Mainebiz. “Without air service, you can’t get groceries, you can’t get medicines. When the previous owner closed, it wasn’t just that we weren’t getting Christmas cards. You weren’t getting your heart medication.”

Penobscot Island Air is the only air service sanctioned to serve Matinicus’s privately owned air strip — and over the years Waters became “part of everyone’s family here,” Rankin said.

“He flew everything, from babies to goats. He flew UPS, FedEx, U.S. mail. He came to people’s graduations. He knew the babies. He knew who got married. He came to the island’s annual solstice party in December,” she said. 

'On a shoestring'

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a resident of the island of North Haven, said in a statement Monday she’d “flown more times with Kevin and PIA pilots than I could possibly count — and always knew passenger safety was his No. 1 concern. He would never hesitate to tell you if the ride was going to be bumpy, or if it would be pushing it too much to travel with the wind picking up or the fog coming in.”

She cited instances where he’d flown critical parts for a fishing boat engine to an island or made emergency flights to get someone to the hospital in the middle of the night.

Pingree said Waters managed a complex transportation service “often on a shoestring and with plenty of personal sacrifice.”
As a businessman, he hired dedicated pilots, she added, “kept all the planes running, managed the bureaucratic rules and regulations of the FAA, and navigated sometimes difficult local politics to the great benefit of our communities.”

“We talked a lot about the successes and challenges of his unique business,” Pingree continued. “It wasn’t unusual to be speaking with Kevin about a sticky issue and see his eyes well up and hear his voice crack — his passion and love for his business and the customers he served was so deep.”

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