NEK airport expansion to benefit regional economy

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NEK airport expansion to benefit regional economy

Thu, 11/12/2015 - 5:32pm -- tim

by Timothy McQuiston Vermont Business Magazine Several years ago, transportation officials in Vermont had an economic development idea to use the popularity of the ski industry to expand the state’s regional airports near those resorts. Newport is the latest beneficiary. Development at the airports would not only organically benefit the ski resorts, but it would boost regional economic development. But it’s been only in the last couple of years that millions of dollars has been allocated and work has been done.

The newly named Northeast Kingdom International Airport (formerly Newport State Airport) in Coventry cut the ceremonial ribbon on what has been $17.1 million in upgrades. They include: extending the runway another 1,000 feet to 5,300 feet to allow for commercial flights; expanding the apron; new bonded warehouses; upgraded septic and water. The airport is now a Foreign Trade Zone to allow for international commerce.

LEFT: The airport was pelted by rain and even some hail during the ribbon cutting Thursday afternoon. TOP PHOTO: Bill Stenger addresses the crowd inside the terminal. BELOW: Rendering of the proposed new terminal building. Photos by Vermont Business Magazine.

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Jay Peak and Q Burke developer Bill Stenger (the state owns the airport and it is leased to QResorts for development) said that ground will be broken this spring for a new terminal, which he hopes will be in service by next ski season. He also anticipates that regular commercial air service will eventually serve the region. In Rutland, regular service is expanding and in Stowe a new service is coming for the first time in over 30 years, thus enhancing the ski-airport connections.

“The opportunity is real and before us,” Stenger said.

He dismissed the naysayers. “A lot of things that would ‘never happen,’ have happened.”

Patricia Sears, Chair, Northeast Kingdom International Airport Committee, who emceed the ribbon cutting event, said that the success of the projects was due to the collaboration of many different partners, both private and public, including Stenger and his development group at Jay Peak and Q Burke resorts, state and federal government, local government and development organizations, local town, city and legislative officials and the FAA.

“It’s just great seeing it coming to fruition” Sears said.

“This ribbon cutting is a long time coming,” Sears said, “for many of us who have been working tenaciously to get the runway extended at the Northeast Kingdom International Airport, in Coventry.” 

She said the value-added of the runway extension means that the airport will now be usable by general aviation, cargo and charter flights 24/7, all-weather, all year. This is an added distinct advantage to the airport that is enjoys an elevation that allows it not be socked in by fog, as other airports in Vermont. 

At our latitude, with this extension of 1,001' private jets from Europe can now stop at an international airport for refueling at a competitive price instead of having to go to metropolitan area airports with significantly more air traffic. Once the terminal is completed (scheduled for fall 2016), there will be Customs & Border Protection services located at the airport making it a user-fee port-of-entry airport.

We expect that within a short amount of time the airport will be welcoming cargo flights with shipments between biotech firms in Newport and the Midwest. As this airport is a designated Foreign Trade Zone hub site, that will bring more cargo flights as well. 

The charters of private planes and jets can now land safely in the winter as well as rainy days and nights. This is a terrific opportunity for nearby Jay Peak Resort and Q Burke as well as Craftsbury Outdoor Center and other recreation destinations.

In 2011, the town of Coventry commissioned an economic impact study for the airport and with the successful work of partners lead by Guy Rouelle, VTrans Aviation Administrator.

“We have made this happen way before the estimated timeline,” Sears said.

Now, Q Resorts and other businesses who like the airport's location so close to the Canadian border and proximity to businesses in Montreal and the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Sherbrooke alone has a population of 155,000), are in a position of strength to bring in more economic development to the airport and neighboring communities. 

Stenger said the infrastructure is in place to expand the airport, which will see 100 new direct employees, help the regional economy and reach beyond the border, which is so close. 

“The naysayers,” Stenger said, “can go to hell, go to hell. We will carry on from here.” That statement received boisterous applause from the dozens of people crammed into the terminal.