Bennington airport revitalization in early talks
By Patrick McArdle
Staff Writer | June 18,2012
BENNINGTON — Officials with the Vermont Agency of Transportation have been in touch with staff members from the town of Bennington to discuss possible development of the William H. Morse State Airport as an economic driver for the community, according to Bennington Economic Development Director Michael Harrington.
In his monthly report to the Select Board, Harrington said the state had “reached out to the town to involve (the town) in the revitalization of the local airport.”
Last week, Harrington said he had recently met with Guy Rouelle, aviation program administrator for the state transportation department, in a preliminary meeting with stakeholders like town staff, representatives of the Bennington County Regional Commission and airport users.
“As he was talking, I really got the sense from him that he really had an interest in really looking at the full scope of potential for the airport, so not just what it does now or what it has done in the past but what’s the full scope that we could be looking at,” Harrington said.
Among the topics addressed were the position and condition of the runway. Since that time, Vermont’s congressional delegation announced that five Vermont airports were in line to receive $1.2 million in funding from the Federal Aviation Administration. The Morse airport is expected to receive $150,000 to pay for a runway rehabilitation project.
According to Harrington, there were also “holistic” discussions that considered ways to turn the airport into an economic driver for the state and local community.
“That’s where I really jumped in because I thought ‘This is a terrific opportunity for Bennington to have a facility in and around the area that serves not only the local community but hopefully tourists as well,’” he said.
After discussions with Rouelle and Sandra Bolger, project manager for the airport improvements, Harrington said he was excited by preliminary talk about possibilities like hosting air shows and a flight school.
Some of the participants in the discussion were pilots who use the Morse airport.
“They talked a lot about how people fly up and down the East Coast and many of these small-winged airplane users will find different communities to land in to refuel and actually spend time in the community. What was interesting to me, especially with fuel prices and things like that, how do we become a stop on that route,” Harrington said.
One suggestion that was made was providing transportation, like a car rental agency, so pilots could leave their plane at the airport and come into town.
Harrington said there has also been talk by the state about hiring an operations manager for the airport and starting a new website.
To prepare for the meeting, Harrington did some research that indicated that many towns that hosted small airports, like the one in Bennington, found they provided an economic benefit. But Harrington said he didn’t think he had visited his own local airport in 20 years.
“I think there’s potential there to turn it into an attraction that people may want to go there on a regular basis,” he said.
The airport had been managed by AirNow, a delivery company that used the airport as its headquarters. AirNow went out of business in February 2011. This year, the Agency of Transportation put out a request for proposal to manage the airport but after receiving no responses, the request is currently listed as withdrawn.