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Burlington, Vt., Expanding Airport to Handle Bigger Planes, More Passengers

Tue December 05, 2023 - Northeast Edition #26
Burlington Free Press

The transformation of Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport (BTV) in Vermont from a 1950s-era terminal with narrow hallways and cramped jetways will continue next summer with the start of a $34 million project to build a new north terminal.

In addition, the work will include the demolition of the airport's existing north terminal, according to Nic Longo, the facility's aviation director.

"This [existing] terminal has four jetways attached to it with a hallway about the width of this room," Longo told the Free Press while sitting in a small conference room near his office. "So, what is that, 25 ft. or so? You're talking 600 to 700 people on these four aircraft in a skinny hallway. This was designed in a different aviation industry when aircraft were smaller. They might be flying more frequently but had between 10 and 25 seats on them. Now we're averaging closer to 100 to 125 seats on a plane."

The current north terminal juts out from Patrick Leahy BTV's main building, unlike the planned new terminal, which Longo said will be built in line with the existing main terminal to streamline access by jets and people.

The Burlington Free Press reported Nov. 29 that Longo expects it to open by fall or early winter of 2025.

"We need more space, we need that elbow room," he added. "We need a better experience for our passengers. So that's why you're going to start seeing this linear building."

The first phase of the airport transformation project was to consolidate its Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening lanes into a two-story, 30,000-sq.-ft., $19 million expansion of the terminal that opened for passengers in October 2022. The four-lane security checkpoint utilizes the latest screening technology and includes expanded seating for passengers.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) paid 90 percent of the cost of the consolidated security checkpoint and will do the same for the new north terminal.

"It's very rare for a small hub airport to receive terminal funding," Longo said.

Airport's Hotel Construction May Start in the Spring

Another long-awaited project that Longo is hoping gets under way soon is the airport property's planned hotel. Initial discussions for the facility — a joint project of DEW Construction Corp., from Williston, Vt., and Colwen Hotels, a management company based in Portsmouth, N.H. — began in 2016.

"There was lots of negotiation," Longo told the Burlington news source. "We got it almost right before the pandemic started, [but when COVID-19] hit, everything stalled."

DEW and Colwen are currently going through the permitting process — including an Act 250 permit — and hope to start building in the spring. Act 250 is Vermont's law governing development that requires meeting a wide range of criteria, from environmental to aesthetic, and has been known to hold up, or even terminate, projects in the past, the Free Press noted.

Longo said it will take at least a year to build the Marriott SpringHill Suites hotel planned for Patrick Leahy BTV, meaning its likely opening would be the spring of 2025, if permitting goes smoothly. The hotel will feature approximately 125 rooms, he explained, and will be built right next to the parking garage, making it very convenient for the airport's passengers.

Parking Garage Construction Halted for the Holidays

Visitors to Burlington's airport have often been baffled and frustrated by the ongoing $2 million upgrade to the lighting and fire alarm systems in the garage, with parking spaces rendered off-limits seemingly at random as the work progressed.

But Longo said the entire construction operation has now been shut down for the holiday season, opening up all parking spaces, except for about 100 on the exposed southside third level of the garage.

"During the holidays we see lots of peak days where capacity reaches 97 percent full, so we're going to open up those spaces and shut down the project. Plus, it's very difficult to work in the winter," he explained, adding "snow removal proves too difficult around parked cars."

Longo said that even after construction resumes in early 2024, completion of the parking garage is still another year away.

The structure is one of Patrick Leahy BTV's largest sources of revenue, while the airport itself is a nonprofit operation owned by the city of Burlington.

Longo noted that the airport's mission is to be as financially self-sustaining as possible, which it has been for most of its history.

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