New plane at airport

One proposed improvement at the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport is adding 250-foot safety areas to either end of the paved runway.

Proposed changes at the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport could include a slightly longer runway — able to handle larger planes — and better drainage along the runway, safer refueling and, far out in the future, possible new taxiways.

Officials at the Vermont Agency of Transportation hope those improvements will draw more business jet pilot traffic.

The changes are part of the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport master plan, which was presented for public comment in a hangar at the airport Aug. 9.

What’s planned

It’s not easy to develop at Morrisville-Stowe State Airport, since wetlands consume much of the airport’s acreage.

The bulk of the land left over needs to be object-free for safe takeoffs and landings, and for weather tracking systems and equipment.

The airport has two runways, one paved and one grass. The grass runway is used most frequently for sailplane landings and tow plane takeoffs.

VTrans is considering adding a 250-foot paved safety area to both ends of the paved runway, including a turnaround area.

It’s also discussing replacing the plane refueling area. The current setup is “failing” and needs to be replaced, said Paul McDonnell, aviation operations manager at CHA Consulting, a firm the state is working with. The new system would consist of two self-contained double-wall tanks, all above ground, McDonnell said.

A 750-foot partial parallel taxiway would improve the safety of the runway, since right now, just one plane can take off or land or taxi at a time.

Ten existing aircraft tie-downs would be relocated to 45,000 square feet of new paved apron.

Drainage swales — ditches intended to collect rainwater — should be relocated, according to VTrans.

Finally, VTrans hopes to relocate an aircraft hangar farther north, but “that’s not as simple as we would like it to be,” McDonnell said, given the wetlands nearby.

These potential improvements come on the heels of runway work several years ago.

A runway reconstruction was completed in 2015, as well as an apron reconstruction, updating that paving and making it safer for pilots.

Several years ago, a swath of trees was cleared, too.

State changes to the airport could coincide with private development there, if Russell Barr gets the funding together.

Barr owns Stowe Aviation, and has been pushing to build a new terminal at the airport for several years. He hopes to build it by next summer, coordinating with the VTrans airport master plan improvements.

The 8,000-square-foot terminal and 20,000-square-foot hangar already have state and local permits, and Barr had been fighting to secure funding for the project through the federal EB-5 program, which allows foreign investors who contribute at least $500,000 to a U.S. project that guarantees at least 10 full-time jobs to attain permanent resident status.

Barr pulled his project out of the EB-5 program after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission brought fraud charges against two Vermont-based developers, and is now attempting to secure private funding.

Barr has his eye on summer 2019 for completion of the terminal and hangar.

A boost to air tourism

The outlined improvements at the state airport could bring in larger aircraft from farther away — or at least that’s VTrans’ hope.

In the last 12 months, Morrisville-Stowe State Airport has had 12,000 landings, McDonnell said. Most involve local private pilots, some of whom work with Stowe Soaring, the sailplane company that uses the state airport as a base.

Five hundred military pilots used the airport in the last 12 months, and almost 2,000 private pilots from outside the region used it, too.

Just 260 of total landings were commuter aircraft, a figure VTrans wants to increase.

Turbine aircraft landings increase in the winter, and experience a seasonal drop in the spring, McDonnell said.

“(Morrisville-Stowe State Airport) has made updates in recent years including a reconstructed runway, taxiway and a new lighting system to expand the types of aircraft that can access the area. This increase in capacity allows for more visitors to travel to Stowe,” said Sharon Harper, marketing manager with Stowe Area Association, the tourist-promotion organization.

“We’re not forecasting a big change here,” said McDonnell, but “business aircraft is the bright spot, nationwide, in terms of growth.”

If Barr’s 20,000-square-foot hangar is constructed, it could accommodate up to five jet aircraft based at the airport, McDonnell said. No jets are based there now, according to VTrans.

No funding has been secured yet for the proposed improvements, and McDonnell was careful to stress that not all of them are guaranteed to happen.

VTrans and CHA Consulting were there to get the public’s opinion.

Peter Fuss, a pilot with planes based at Morrisville-Stowe State Airport, expressed concern that the grass runway wasn’t accounted for in the airport master plan.

Gliders and sailplanes have used the grass runway for more than 50 years, said Don Post, who owns Stowe Soaring.

He described the grass runway as “the biggest single safety feature at the airport,” because gliders are dependent on wind currents, and when they need to land and a power plane is already making an entrance, glider pilots can simply relocate to the grass runway.

Post decries the drainage swales there, which he says were put in after runway reconstruction.

“They’re very dangerous, because if a plane loses a landing gear or something like that and slides off the runway when it’s landing, it’s going to go into the ditch and flip over, as opposed to if it was flat there, it would slide into the bushes and be much safer. It’s much more dangerous with those dips there,” Post said.

Dan Delabruere, rail and aviation program director with VTrans, said the ditches were FAA-approved, but VTrans will look into possible alternatives.

Also, heavy equipment used in the runway reconstruction project damaged that grass strip, and Post says it needs to be smoothed over and rolled.

“It’s so rough it’s an absolute embarrassment,” agreed Bob Burley, the Vermont state liaison for the recreational aviation foundation.

Post implored the state agency to prioritize the concerns of glider pilots, because they make up the bulk of comings and goings at Morrisville-Stowe State Airport.

“Gliding is not something they think much about, and I think they should,” Post said. “There’s no question that six months of glider flights exceeds all the power flights for the rest of the year total.”

Anyone who wants to submit public comment on the proposed airport changes has until Sept. 10 to do so. Comment can be submitted directly to McDonnell at pmcdonnell@chacompanies.com.

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