BURLINGTON (AP) -- Opponents to basing a new U.S. Air Force fighter plane at the Burlington International Airport raised alarms Thursday about the potential for accidents involving the plane, and argued that the city of Burlington, which owns the airport, could be liable.
But those statements were rebutted both by the top officer with the Vermont National Guard and Burlington’s city attorney.
The Air Force says Burlington is its preferred location to base up to 24 of the F-35s to replace aging F-16s.
Critics including Burlington City Councilors Vince Brennan and Rachel Siegel held a morning news conference to say the F-35 won’t have been flown enough to ensure its safety when it’s deployed in 2015.
But Major Gen. Steve Cray, the Guard’s adjutant general, said Burlington isn’t scheduled to get the planes until 2020, when they’ll have had more flying hours.
"There are no safety concerns," Cray said, adding that the plane has been tested extensively. "We’re not programmed ... to receive the jets until 2020, and at that point there will have been even more flight hours on them."
In response to concerns the city, as the Guard’s landlord, could be held liable in the event of the crash, Eileen Blackwood, the city attorney, released a memo Thursday afternoon saying the city would have little power under the U.S. Constitution to block the military from deploying the planes to Burlington.
The Constitution "appears to establish that the City has no authority to restrict or interfere with the military and national defense activities of the Air Force, acting through VTANG (the Vermont Air National Guard)," Blackwood wrote.
Because the city’s hands are tied, "it is unlikely that a court could find the City liable for any harm caused by the F-35," Blackwood wrote.