Burlington International Airport has spent millions over the last several years developing not only better facilities for air passengers, but general aviation, laying the groundwork for a strong economy that could help Vermont out of the recession and set the stage for long-term growth.
Over the last 15 years, the airport has expanded the south end, where facilities for private aircraft has seen strong growth. Heritage Aviation has spent millions of private investment dollars to maintain and service aircraft -- even including renewable energy, in the form of wind and solar arrays, a first for any general aviation facility in the country.
That was matched by even more public investment on the part of the airport itself. Airport Operations manager Robert McEwing said, "We've actually put just under $15 million, $14.9 million, into developing this south end."
McEwing and other officials addressed two state Senate committees in hopes of showing them how all of the investment will benefit Vermont's economy. For instance, Pratt and Whitney fixes aircraft engines, employing dozens of highly skilled technicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "All of this is a plus for economic development in the region," McEwing said. "And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to provide jobs, we're trying to provide jobs for students and this is very important. We want to keep Vermonters here, we want to keep the students here -- and this is one way to do it."
The expansion includes a proposal to build and grow the Burlington Aviation Technology program by taking it out of its current location in a small and run-down brown building, and building new quarters nearby.
The question is, can the lawmakers come up with any money at all in this very tight economic time? None of the legislators was prepared to say where they might come up with $2 million for the new building on this short a notice. That kind of money might have to wait till next year. But the project does have its supporters.
Burlington Aviation Technology Program director Rick Sylvester said, "Yes, we're going to see the building. It may not be this year, it may not be next year. But we're going to continue work on it."
Officials here say the tech school expansion, coupled with the rest of the south end airport improvements, would give Vermont the best facilities -- unmatched anywhere else in New England. For a state looking for economic growth, it has grabbed attention.