An expanded runway at the Morristown-Stowe Airport could boost the local economy, according to local officials and business leaders.
The current runway length of 3,700 linear feet prevents planes from landing in anything but good weather because of insurance restrictions. Lengthening it to 4,000 feet would allow more flights, which would have a positive impact on the local recreation and tourism economies, according to Morristown officials.
The Morristown Select Board sent a letter to the Vermont Agency of Transportation last month advising that it would support a runway expansion. The Morristown Planning Commission also supports the proposed expansion.
The idea was first discussed in July 2012 during a meeting at the airport between the Lamoille County Planning Commission, Morristown officials, airport representatives and neighboring property owners.
The Stowe Select Board has not been formally asked to give its opinion on the proposed expansion, and would want more information about changes and impacts before weighing in, said Stowe Town Manager Charles Safford.
Ed Stahl, executive director of the Stowe Area Association, believes a runway expansion could provide economic benefits to the region.
“We support the expansion from a basic premise that if the airport is reconfigured in any way that permits greater use, it’s good for the county and Stowe in particular,” Stahl said.
The Stowe Area Association hasn’t taken a formal position on the expansion, he said.
The Lamoille Region Chamber of Commerce supports the expansion, according to executive director Cindy Locke, who has met with local and state officials to discuss the proposal.
“We are excited about the possibility of this expansion helping us in the economic development of our region,” Locke said. “Our ultimate goal in the future would be to add a customs facility like they are planning in Newport and Rutland. This will open up that important Ontario vacation traffic that so love to come to Stowe and the Smugglers’ Notch region.”
The small, one-runway airport off Route 100 between Stowe and Morrisville opened in 1960. Around 6,600 flights touch down on the runway every year.
The airport is used primarily by small private aircraft and several commercial ventures, including the non-profit History Flight program and Stowe Soaring, which hosts gliding trips.
By at least one measure — fuel sales — it is the third busiest state airport.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation will discuss the proposal at a meeting with Federal Aviation Association officials in January, said Guy Rouelle, the agency’s aviation program administrator.
“It’s our intention to meet with FAA to evaluate the five-year capital improvement plan,” Rouelle said. “Projects have to be prioritized.”
During the meeting, the agency will determine if a runway expansion would be eligible for federal funding, Rouelle said.
If eligible, it would be prioritized and could be placed on the five-year plan, depending on other projects, priorities and funding.
Even if it makes the list, the project might not break ground for six or seven years, Rouelle said.
In September, the Federal Aviation Administration signed off on a $3.6 million grant for upgrades to the airport’s existing runway.
Next summer, the runway will be shifted 90 feet to the south, to allow for a safer approach from both sides. At the same time, the state will repave the runway, which is currently criss-crossed with weedy and grassy cracks; remove trees for a clearer approach; and improve taxiways and lighting.
Construction should begin with the tree clearing in January; the runway relocation will start in the spring when the ground thaws and should take about 90 days. The airport will be closed during that time.
The goal is to have the airport reopen in July ahead of foliage season, which is the busiest time of year for Stowe Soaring, Rouelle said.
State officials and airport advocates say this round of improvements will make the airport even more attractive for private aircraft and other air traffic, boosting the facility as an economic driver in the county.