Wednesday June 12, 2013

WILSON RING

Associated Press

COLCHESTER -- The Air Force is going to use five broad criteria in deciding whether to assign the F-35 fighter jet with the Vermont Air National Guard and base the planes at the Burlington International Airport, a top guard official said Thursday.

Criteria include the cost of basing the planes in Burlington, the capacity of the Air Guard base to handle the planes and the training areas and weather in which the planes would fly.

Some of the answers are objective, but others are subjective judgments that will be made by Air Force personnel. The final decision on whether to bring the F-35 to Vermont will be made by the secretary of the Air Force this fall.

"In the final basing decision, they will look at all this information," said Brig. Gen. Dick Harris, the top Vermont Air Guard officer working to take the F-35 to Burlington, during a briefing Thursday with reporters at Camp Johnson in Colchester.

The Air Force has already said Burlington is its preferred location as the spot to assign 18 or 24 of the new fighters, which would replace the aging F-16s the Guard flies now. There are two other National Guard bases also being considered, along with three active duty Air Force bases. The secretary will pick one National Guard and one Air Force base.

The plan in Burlington has provoked fierce opposition from some people, mostly because the F-35 is significantly noisier than the F-16.

Last week, the Air Force released a revised draft environmental impact statement, done to take into account population growth in the area around the airport between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, that increased by about 20 percent the number of people who would be most affected by the noisier plane. Up to about 7,700 would be affected by the noise if 24 planes were assigned to Burlington.

The Thursday briefing was designed to help explain the process being used to choose the base and allay concerns.

Harris and others acknowledged the F-35 is louder than the F-16, but the guard pilots could help reduce the effect of that noise through a variety of factors, including the way the planes would be flown.

South Burlington City Councilor Rosanne Greco, one of the most outspoken opponents of having the F-35 in Burlington, said the criteria used in the score sheet seemed logical.

"Looking at it at face value, it seems like a pretty fair process," Greco said.

But she claimed an earlier score sheet was done using information from the F-16, which has flown out of Burlington for more than 25 years.

"The data they used in parts of the process was not relevant to the F-35," she said.

She said she also was concerned a new aircraft could be more prone to crash and the most likely place that would happen is in the heavily populated areas around the airport on takeoff or landing.

But guard officials said the plane would be fully tested and the pilots trained before they began flying in Burlington.