Hop a flight from Burlington International Airport and you can jet off to Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Newark, New York or Washington, D.C. But if you want to leave the continental United States on a foreign adventure, you can’t get there from here. Not on a direct flight, anyway.
BTV, as the Queen City is known in aviation parlance, is served by 15 airlines, including seven major passenger carriers. Yet none offers direct service to Canada or Mexico, let alone any cities across the pond. In 1974, the now-defunct Mohawk Airlines (acquired two years earlier by Allegheny Airlines) discontinued all its Burlington flights to Montréal. So, why is the South Burlington airport still called Burlington International?
“Burlington is an international airport by virtue of the fact that it’s a port of entry,” explains Robert McEwing, BTV’s director of planning and development. “We have a lot of flights that come through here — charters, contracts, privately owned aircrafts — where people are flying, say, from Europe to the U.S. and choose to clear customs here because it’s more convenient.”
He adds, “You’d be surprised who flies through Burlington — some really well-known people,” but declines to provide any names.
McEwing’s job includes trying to woo new airlines to Burlington and to expand the destination options of existing ones. He says one of the biggest hurdles — besides the current economic downturn, which has hammered all carriers — is trying to convince airlines there’s a big enough market in Vermont.
About 750,000 people board flights out of Burlington each year, McEwing notes. A large percentage of those are Canadians who drive to Burlington because it’s easier to deal with a smaller airport. But airlines need exact numbers before they’ll bank on that business. Although BTV has counted Canadian license plates in the parking garage, such research methods don’t fly with domestic carriers who are wary of expanding their service. McEwing says it has to do with concerns over delays at the border crossings, as well as the fluctuations in the U.S.-Canadian exchange rate.
As for attracting a major international carrier to Burlington — say, direct flights to Paris or Prague — McEwing is wistful but realistic: “It’s something we think about, but it’s something that’s pretty hard to reach.”