Lately there has been quite a bit of discussion surrounding the potential basing of the F-35 fighter plane at the Burlington Air National Guard base. The simplest overview of the situation is that the Air Force is retiring the F-16 fighter jet and replacing them with the F-35. The concern is that these planes are not exact analogues of each other; new and additional technology brings additional mechanical requirements. Thrust and weight alter, capabilities improve, and environmental impacts need to be modeled.
The argument isn’t about whether or not you support the men and women of the Vermont Air Guard; we all support them. The service they provide to our state and country through their duty, and the service they provide every day as members of our community. It’s not even about saying that they should have the best because they are the best, though that’s also true; our VTANG was selected as a preferred alternative due not just because of our location, but because of their quality.
What’s at issue for GBIC is really quite simple. It’s not the impacts as outlined in the Environmental Impact Statement, as almost all negative impacts are shown to lessen with a transition to the F-35. The issue is one of numbers, and one that we feel is quite easy to understand when the furor is stripped away.
This is about the 1100 guard jobs. It’s about the 53 million dollars in direct payroll. It’s about $2.4 million in fire and safety provided to the airport.
If the F-35 is based at the Burlington Air Guard, these things will stay and all of the associated economic activity from guard weekends, trainings, and community support will continue. It isn’t fear mongering to say that without these planes our VTANG as we know it would be on a limited time-table. The 158th are a fighter wing, and without a fighter plane the timeline for operations is a matter of what they have left, not what’s coming next.
Our Congressional delegation has shown support of the project in recognition of VTANG as one of the premier units in the country; Senators Leahy and Sanders as well as Congressman Welch recognize that the F-35 investment will secure the future of our VTANG for decades to come. The net positive impacts on job retention, job creation and economic potential are too great to be ignored.
The Guard has been sensitive to the concerns of the community up to this point, and will continue to do so in the future. Flight operations with the F-35 will decline by more than 2500 patterns, flight times and days have been limited to mitigate impacts on the communities around the airport, and the current VTANG operations account for only 5% of the total traffic coming out of the airport today.
GBIC strongly supports the basing of the F-35 at the Burlington Air National Guard Base for the continued and significant community, social, and economic benefits provided by our Air National Guard.