Calves were loaded for transport to Milan, Italy. KLM attendants rode with the calves to control temperature and fresh air.

The History of Burlington International Airport: The Civilian Side – The 60’s

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Thursday October 02, 2014

Part of a series recapping the history of the Burlington International Airport.

By the time the 1960s rolled in, Eastern Airlines had merged with Mohawk Airlines. The Airport Commission named as airport manager Major John A MacKay. MacKay immediately began to make use of the Federal Aid to Airports Program; this program matched every dollar of local airport development money with three dollars of federal aid which helped fund new runway/taxiway repairs, paving, and fixes to the administration building and terminal.

The 1960s continued to deliver memorable moments in airport history, such as President Johnson’s trip to Burlington in 1964 for his re-election speech and seasoned mechanic George Hall’s New England Mechanic of the Year award--the first recipient of the FAA award.

One of the more amusing bits of history during this time involved the shipping of calves to Italy—no kidding! Ed Crosby and a group of farmers in the Vergennes area contracted to sell calves to Milan, Italy where fresh veal was sought after but difficult to obtain. A KLM DC-7C was utilized for the five or six flights. The calves, 165 per flight, were transferred from trucks to a pen and a forklift raised them to floor level. A double deck arrangement was used with the calves standing loose with only a few webbed barriers to prevent load shift. KLM attendants rode with the calves to control temperature and fresh air. A representative of the Vermont Department of Agriculture rode in the crew cabin to monitor humane conditions.

Though these facts had a special place in airport history during the sixties, none was quite as monumental as the moment when the Burlington airport launched into the Jet Age in the mid-’60s. As an ode to the Jet Age, several important folks flew in on Mohawk N114-J for the dedication. The main speaker at the event was then Michigan Representative Gerald Ford; before the VIPs left for Utica, they were offered courtesy jet rides to complete the experience.

The opening of the 1967 International and Universal Exposition (Expo ‘67) in Montreal prompted the inauguration of Mohawk jet service direct to Montreal.

By the end of the ‘60s, Burlington had signed a contract with the Airport Parking Corporation of America to provide parking to meet service demands (at the time, about 100,000 passengers a year), and William Shea took the lead as airport manager after MacKay’s retirement in June 1969.

Rounding out the end of the ‘60s, just one year before the Burlington Municipal Airport’s 50th anniversary, the Board of Alderman had an important decision to make. Would Burlington Municipal Airport retain its name, or would it become Burlington International Airport?

Burlington Mayor John Burns strongly objected. He had helped grow the airport when it was just a seed--when he, Mason Beebe, and Jim Taylor selected the Burlington Municipal Airport location out in a cornfield in 1919. Burns did not want to tarnish the reputation that took nearly a half century to build.

While the Board of Aldermen took Burns’ concerns into account, it was Airport Manager William Shea’s argument that ultimately resulted in the vote to change the airport’s title from “municipal” to “international” on February 24, 1969. “International” would help elevate Burlington’s image as a larger point of entry, contrary to “municipal” which would connote a smaller airport, Shea explained. Thus, the Burlington International Airport name was born, Shea’s title changed to Airport General Manager, and the airport went up, up and away on a new journey into a fresh decade.

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. There is also historical documentation in a 2010 publication Burlington International Airport: A History 1920-2010 by James Tabor.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent