By Steve Urbon
DARTMOUTH – Gov. Deval Patrick and a flock of aviation officials swept into town Tuesday to proclaim General Aviation Appreciation Month and publicize major improvements at New Bedford Regional Airport.
The event was actually on the Dartmouth side of the line straddled by the airport, because that’s the location of the Bridgewater State University Aviation Training Center. Bridgewater State President Dana Mohler-Faria escorted the governor on a tour of the facility, reopened by the school three years ago, one year after Delta Airlines closed it for budgetary reasons.
The governor tried his hand on the flight simulator “and I landed in the grass,” Patrick joked.
Logan aside, there are 39 public airports in Massachusetts, and the governor credited them for being a major reason Massachusetts’ economy is doing so well compared with most other states.
A just-completed survey concluded that general aviation accounts for $3.8 billion in economic activity each year, and when one includes Logan International Airport, the figure is $11.9 billion, the governor said.
New Bedford Regional Airport is in the first year of a three-year upgrade project, with repaved taxiways, a slightly extended runway and an ambitious vegetation control project intended to improve airport safety. The $25 million project is paid for mainly with federal and state funds.
Five feet is being added to the 4,995-foot runway among other changes, which airport officials said will put it into a higher category for consideration of such things as grants.
Richard A. Davey, secretary and CEO of the state Department of Transportation, said he is expecting New Bedford Regional’s terminal to eventually become certified by the federal Transportation Safety Administration. In that case, passengers could drive to New Bedford rather than Logan or Green in Rhode Island, saving time and money, and be cleared through security before getting on a connecting flight to the major airport with no need for further screening, again saving time.
With direct flights on the wane, Davey said he thinks such a system is highly likely in the future in this country.
During a presentation before about 100 aviation officials, airport managers, students and public officials, including mayor-elect Jon Mitchell and City Councilor David Alves, Mayor Scott Lang said that, in addition to the runway improvements and safety measures, he wants the airport to have more direct and more pleasant access along with new signage to announce it to the motoring world.
Mohler-Faria said that with the aviation training center under its own wing rather than under contract from Delta, Bridgewater State will be able to add 50 percent to its current 95-student enrollment in the Department of Aviation Science.
He said the university is reaching out to students in the city’s high schools, taking hundreds to spend a week living on campus to get the feel of a college environment and explore the possibilities.
Ann C. Mollica, FAA New England deputy regional administrator, said Bridgewater State University will be looking at developing an aviation certification program for vocational school students so they may begin work in the industry immediately upon graduation from high school.
They could then continue their aviation education career at the same time, she said.
Source: SOUTHCOAST TODAY