The History of Burlington International Airport: Post War, The Civilian Side

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Thursday September 18, 2014

This is the fifth part of a series recapping the history of the Burlington International Airport.

Around the time of Vermont Air National Guard’s (VTANG’s) inception in 1946, the airport was making strides of its own. Hugh Finnegan, chairman of the Airport Commission, resigned from his position so that he could become the airport manager after Dan Huffnail. In that time, the airport earned a certificate from the National Aeronautic Board recognizing Burlington for good airport operating practice. Burlington and 70 others received this honor among a pool of over 4,000.

The $150,000 bond approval of 1948 seeded the funds needed for a new $255,000 administration building and runway extension. Only a year later, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) installed a $25,000 landing system.

What was it like to experience the airport as a passenger in the 1950s?

Imagine a time where the stewardess handed out gum to help prevent the popping in your ears during takeoff or handed you a “4 pak” cigarettes sample. Imagine a time before seat back trays and using your pillow instead, or receiving champagne service during long flights before your meal. This was the airport Ed Garvey, a former Colonial Airlines employee, and others who worked or used the facilities remember. Colonial Airlines, as well as Northeast Airlines, were the big passenger airliners at the time.
Before the 1960s when there was customs pre-clearance in Montreal, folks travelling the Colonial night coach (known as the “Night Owl”) from Montreal to New York in a DC-4 were required to stop at Burlington for customs clearance. It did not matter who you were; “From Bob Hope to the New York City ballet, everyone waited in line,” Garvey recalls.

Burlington was the place to be at dawn, when the fog rolled in:

“The new generation Britannias, DC-7s, Super Constellations destined for Montreal, Boston, or New York would come nonstop from Europe. Since landfall was generally at daybreak, when fog was forming, and after bucking prevailing headwinds, low fuel reserve would require them to divert to Burlington,” Garvey writes. His friends, Lois and Warren McClure, were pleased when their KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight diverted over Montreal to Burlington, 10 minutes from their South Burlington residence. At other times, airport personnel were surprised to see flights from Air France, Air Italia, BOAC and SAS when they were diverted from Montreal.

Colonial offered DC-3 service to LaGuardia with intermediate stops at Rutland, Glen Falls, and Albany as well as a flag stop at Poughkeepsie, if there were reservations. By the mid 1950’s, Colonial Airlines merged with Eastern Airlines and became known as  Eastern Airlines, Colonial Division. It also allowed thru flights to Philadelphia, Washington, and St. Louis. Service to Idlewild and LaGuardia New York airports made it easier for international and transcontinental connections. The merge added 15 more employees and a radar traffic control facility, per the city’s lease for the CAA to install it.

In 1957, the Martin 404 pressurized passenger airliner replaced the DC-3, and the Lockheed 749 Constellations made Burlington their home. Along with aircraft, 1957 brought some serious passenger and freight traffic with the announcement of IBM locating to the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC) building in Essex Junction. The company boasted 6,000 employees. Another important company, General Electric, provided an additional supporting arm for the airport by maintaining a portion of the airport’s manufacturing facility.

J. Edward Moran took over as the airport manager in 1958. Moran had served as the Mayor of Burlington from 1948-1957 and had proved himself a good candidate for the job based on his mayoral years. With his collaborative nature with city officials and private businesses, keeping VTANG in the area, and playing a role in the $3.5 million expansion of the Ethan Allen Base, the Airport Commissioners had many reasons to turn to Moran.

Around this time, the Civil Aeronautics Administration was renamed the Federal Aviation Agency, which then again changed to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Pete Quasada was the first administrator. The following year, Burlington had a new radar system which expanded its air control staff. On the whole, civilian and VTANG personnel numbers climbed, and the airport was valued at around $2 million given its 1,000 acres.

Next week: The 60’s bring changes and new management.

A special thank you to Ed Garvey for providing historical information from personal recounts as well as from Burlington International Airport: A Pictorial History written by 1982 Airport Commissioners (Credited for Part 1). There is also historical documentation in a 2010 publication Burlington International Airport: A History 1920-2010 by James Tabor.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold. Correspondent