Once struggling aviation industry shows signs of rebound in Vermont

Agency of Transportation

GOOD FOR LANDING?: Two years after Vermont’s aviation industry seemed dissatisfied with its financial resources, things appear to be back on track.

Just years after top Vermont aviation leaders voiced concerns about tight budgets and subpar airport conditions, there are now signs that things are back on track for airports around the state.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation announced it received more than $850,000 in airport safety and infrastructure grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The money is to be distributed to four of the state’s 10 airports.

“The federal funding is intended to keep the nation’s airports in a state of good repair and make air travel a better experience for passengers,” VTrans stated in a press release.

Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issued a joint statement about the federal money: “These federal investments in Vermont’s state-owned airports will improve safety and enhance their economic potential. Consistent capital investment is needed to ensure that these community assets continue to be well maintained, and we are pleased to see these funds from the FAA put to good use here in Vermont.”

The total grant money, $856,950, is part of the agency’s annual request to the Federal Aviation Administration. VTrans applied for nine grants and received these four:

State of Vermont – $270,000 to seal airport pavement at airports throughout the state.

Middlebury State Airport – $346,950 to remove obstructions in the approaches to Runway 1/19.

Edward F Knapp State Airport, Barre – $210,000 to update the airport master plan.

Southern Vermont Regional in Rutland – $30,000 for aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment.

Just three years ago, at a Vermont Aviation Council meeting in Montpelier, airport owners and industry leaders said money was tight.

“We have to be prudent in how we manage the finite state dollars that we have,” Joe Flynn, secretary of the Agency of Transportation, said at the meeting.

The owner of Stowe Aviation, Russ Barr, also voiced concerns.

“We have the demand right now, and if we don’t handle that demand now, we may lose an opportunity,” he said.

That same year the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Vermont a C+ score for its airport conditions.

“The aviation system at-large is underfunded. From 2017 to 2021, it is estimated that approximately 80 percent of state airport needs would go unmet, while approximately 60 percent of BTV’s needs would go unmet,” the report stated.

Guy Rouelle, who had led the Agency of Transportation’s aviation division for six years, said at the time “there is concern all across Vermont’s airports.”

But now, Dan Delabruere, the Rail and Aviation Bureau director for the Agency of Transportation, says things seem to be stabilized.

“Statewide I think we’re doing fine,” he told True North last week in an interview. “Obviously, I don’t care what mode of transportation that you are in — you can always use more money for infrastructure.”

Stowe Aviation will not get a piece of this federal money. A spokesperson for the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport declined to comment on whether they needed the money. Delabruere says that the airport received two grants in the past two years for runway paving on each end. According to the Stowe Aviation website, they have recently completed stage one of a two-part extensive airport redevelopment program.

In addition to runway extensions, there’s been work on Stowe’s taxiway, a new lighting system, a new weather observing system, and tree removals. The funds are credited to “a unique public and private partnership” called the National Interest Aviation Project. Stage two will be funded by $20 million of private investment.

Delabruere maintains that in the big picture, Vermont’s state-run airports are in good hands.

“I think we’ve continued to get good support from the Federal Aviation Administration when it comes to grant applications. I think that our funding stream, we’ve been OK with it. Could we use more? Sure, but I think we are doing fine.”

The state’s largest airport, Burlington International Airport, is owned by the city. Delabruere says they don’t oversee developments there. They are having a decent year as well — the airport’s aviation director, Gene Richards, recently told U.S. News that they’ve just completed a $6 million upgrade to the car rental building and they have another $130,000 in excess funds from the prior budget.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Agency of Transportation
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