NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The state is considering several design changes to the local airport to help meet requirements from the Federal Aviation Administration that will take effect in 2015.
Guy Rouelle, the aviation program administrator for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said the state is looking to address a safety deficiency identified by the FAA at the William H. Morse state airport. He said new regulations require "safety areas" at the beginning and ending of runways for planes that over- or under-shoot the landing strip.
"Bennington, right now, has a deficiency on the west end," Rouelle said. "We're studying and we're coming up with alternatives to fix the safety deficient areas on the west end of the airport."
The state has contracted with a design engineer, Passero Associates, to develop several alternative solutions. Rouelle said the FAA requires may recommended fixes before it will fund any projects.
"Come up with all alternatives"
"What we're doing is trying to come up with all alternatives that will allow the airport to increase in functionality," he said.
Among the possibilities is moving the runway slightly to the north. That would allow for the safety areas, as well as reduce the impact of Whipstock Hill on pilots. "That may be a recommendation based on the consultant," Rouelle said.
The hill, located on the south side of the airport, creates a difficult approach for pilots, especially those not familiar with the terrain. Chaim Weiss, 58, of Spring Valley, N.Y., was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed on Whipstock Hill in Nov. 2009. Weiss was the lone passenger aboard the four-seat, Cessna 172 that crashed after several attempts to land at the airport.
Rouelle said the airport is "in excellent shape other than the safety deficiency." The runway could use reconstruction, however, because of deteriorating pavement. He said the state is considering the option of moving the runway because the runway may need to be repaved anyway.
The state has also met with local municipal officials and business leaders. Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joann Erenhouse said she took part in a meeting last week with state officials and the consultant. Erenhouse said local officials are interested in moving the runway. A longer runway would help business growth in the area, but that is not part of any current discussions, she said.
Rouelle said the FAA program through which the work will be funded is considered to be an entitlement. So, whether or not any of the solutions identified by the consultant will be completed largely depends on available funds, he said.
"We've never in Vermont had an issue with that. There's no guarantees, but we feel reasonably assured that it will be funded. The FAA has agreed to fund it if the entitlement program continues," he said.
Similar reviews are taking place at airports throughout the state, according Rouelle.