Recently I’ve been spending time in the Burlington area and wondering why we have to put up with the ear splitting noise of military planes as they take off and land. The good news is that they're phasing out the F-16s. The bad news is they'll be replacing them with F-35s.
In 1951 when the Air National Guard moved to Burlington, it was probably a sensible decision. But 65 years later, the community has changed and so have the planes.
Chittenden County is now the economic engine that drives Vermont. Between 1980 and 2000, jobs in Chittenden County grew faster than in the rest of Vermont, and twice as fast as they did in the rest of the United States. One third of all jobs in Vermont are now located in Chittenden County.
This has allowed even some of the more depressed areas to come to life. For example in 2007, Vermont channeled more than $50 million into development projects in Winooski, which revitalized the downtown with market rate and affordable housing as well as great new restaurants - creating exactly the kind of urban environment that attracts and retains millennials, the great counterbalance in an aging state.
Now, all this positive energy is at risk since Winooski will be directly in the flight path of the F-35s. As someone who's taught real estate at leading business schools for more than 30 years, I can state categorically that low flying, noisy planes have a devastating impact on neighborhoods.
Clearly, we need a National Guard and we need to train pilots using the best aircraft. The odd part about stationing them in Burlington is that it seems to be a lose-lose proposition. The community has to put up with deafening noises. And according to TJ Jackman, from the Air National Guard, when the F-35s arrive, the pilots will try to reduce the noise by not using the afterburners on takeoff and by making modifications to reduce the weight of the plane. I would rather our military pilots trained in planes that were not compromised.
It will be expensive to build a new runway and related facilities in a different location. But perhaps we could fully cover the cost by simply ordering a few less F-35s.
Rather than make incremental changes to mitigate what is now a bad situation, it seems to me we should be able to find a way to test military planes over a less densely populated area and not put Vermont’s economic engine at risk.