Knapp Airport remains vital to local economy
By ART EDELSTEIN
CORRESPONDENT | August 26,2013
Stefan Hard / Staff File Photo
The Edward F. Knapp State Airport in Berlin is shown.
BERLIN — The Edward F. Knapp State Airport located in Barre remains an integral part of the Capitol Region’s economy even with diminished used by corporate travelers due to the economic downturn in the past few years.
“Knapp State Airport is an integral part of the Vermont state system of airports,” said Guy Rouelle, state aeronautics administrator. According to him, “multiple large businesses utilize the airport.” These include the nearby Blue Cross & Blue Shield offices, Home Depot and The Dollar Store.
In addition to businesses, charter operators and multiple based and transient aircraft utilize the airport.
An indication of the use of Knapp Airport was its fuel sales in 2012, which were the second highest in the state system of airports.
George Malek with the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce sees the airport as an important contributor to the local economy because it provides easy access to the Barre-Montpelier area for corporate executives visiting their branches.
“I go by Knapp and there are always different planes parked and landing at the airport,” he said. Malek has observed “expensive jets,” although he could not identify the owners.
The airport, says Malek, is not necessarily in the public’s eye at all times, but that does not mean it is without importance to the health of the local community. “If you didn’t have the airport we would miss it greatly,” he offered. “We might not know it affected the economy but it would.”
While local economic powerhouses like National Life Insurance of Vermont would not relocate without a local airport, Malek said “there would be branch offices getting less attention from their corporate home, and fewer bigwigs would visit than there are now because they can land here.”
An important asset to the local community, provided by Wiggins Air, which operates here, is the delivery of both FedEx and UPS parcels. “I know there are two fleets of trucks that would not exist if not for Knapp,” said Malek.
Airport manager John Roberti, who owns the Vermont Flying Service, paints a picture of an airport that has been affected by the poor economy of the past five years.
“There hasn’t been a lot of traffic,” he noted. He has seen a decline in corporate jets. As businesses try to save money in difficult financial times they are now purchasing a share in the use of a corporate jet. Knapp, like other airports of its type without commercial air service. is seeing these leased planes arrive. As a result, he said, “most of the traffic in corporate jets is with arrivals we cannot identify.”
Among those arrivals that are identifiable, Roberti has seen corporate business persons from Family Dollar, Cracker Barrel, which does business with Cabot Cheese, Home Depot, and Fisher Auto Parts.
Roberti said he tries to identify the company arriving by asking the pilot, but some are wary of identifying their passengers due to competition. He said in today’s business climate flying executives “don’t want their competition to know they are in the area.”
Roberti, whose family has operated the flying service since 1985, said Knapp Airport is important to the local economy. “Would these businesses do business in an area without an airport? Probably not.” Small airports like Knapp are important to the corporate world because “companies that send teams of people around, or to companies they do business with, they won’t send them where they have to fly and then drive for hours.”
According to Roberti, a local airport like Knapp is essential to corporate customers because these busy executives can avoid commercial flights that eat up time on crammed schedules.
Recent statistics compiled by the airport and reported for 2012 show that Knapp averages 66 aircraft operations per day. Of that number 60 percent are classified as local general aviation, a third are transient general aviation and four percent are military. There are 53 aircraft based at the field, 50 are single-engine planes, two are multi-engine and one is a helicopter.
Flights in and out of the airport have slackened in recent years, Roberti said. “Back in the 1980s and 1990s we had twice as much traffic or more,” he contends. He blamed the overall economy for diminished traffic here and at other local airports.
The traffic count at Knapp is mostly small, privately owned aircraft. Day trips and pleasure flights account for the majority of traffic. Few of the planes based at the airport are used for business travel, according to Roberti.
Military flights are for the Army Guard, which, according to Roberti, “uses it once or twice a week for training.” Some flights are generated by Norwich University, which brings in speakers and recruiters.
The Vermont Flying Service school “is very slow,” reports Roberti. Lessons have declined steeply in recent years due to the economy. The cost of gas has doubled in the past few years, raising the cost of the lessons. Flying lessons currently are $160 an hour. “People have less money to play with,” said Roberti who now has just two airplanes and one part-time instructor. In the 1970s the company operated six airplanes and employed several full- and part-time instructors.
During the depth of the recent recession the federal government through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 allocated funds for local airport improvements. Knapp Airport received $6.6 million, which upgraded facilities including the refurbishment of the primary runway, the reconstruction of the secondary runway, the construction of a full parallel taxiway, all new lights, a new electrical vault and a new fuel farm.
“You need the facilities for the air traffic,” said Roberti. “The traffic, especially jet traffic, on business travel has to be doing a lot for the local economy.” He deems the airport “a necessary and integral part of the local economy.” With the federal money the airport, in his estimation, ‘‘is well maintained and people comment how nice it is.”
Roberti said airport traffic would increase when the local and national economy rebounds to pre-2008 levels. At that point, he predicted, “the current airport could handle a big increase in traffic with no problems.”
Rouelle said the goal of his department “is to grow the use of the Knapp Airport.” State Aeronautics understands “that with strong airport leadership, our airports are not only an integral part of a statewide intermodal transportation system, but also economic drivers of each associated community.”