New safety rules may force Rutland airport to downgrade status

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(Host) Newly expanded safety requirements go into effect this week at regional airports across the country. Airport administrators have argued that the high cost of the new requirements may force many of them to cancel passenger service.

But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, officials from the Federal Aviation Administration may have provided regional airports with a potential compromise.

(Keck) Under the new FAA guidelines, small airports will have to provide the same level of emergency response that larger airports do.

Rutland Airport Manager Tom Trudeau says that means they must provide a full time, onsite fire and rescue squad, at a cost of nearly $300,000 a year. Trudeau, and other regional airport managers met recently with FAA officials in Maine to express their concerns.

(Trudeau) “It was a very tense atmosphere. The anxiety level was way up. There’s no bones about it, it would mean the end of air service. A few hundred thousand dollars to communities like Rutland and Bar Harbor and Augusta Maine really makes the difference.”

(Keck) Trudeau says the FAA may provide a way around the situation by allowing small airports to downgrade their certification to Class Three status. Trudeau says if Rutland airport can downgrade, they can hire the Rutland City Fire Department on an as needed basis and still maintain passenger service.

However, he says the airport would no longer be able to accommodate larger charter flights with 30 or more seats. Because of that, he says any decision to downgrade would need to be approved by the community. Trudeau says the FAA should announce whether or not they will allow airports to downgrade any day.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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