May 8, 2016

Vermont airport chief finds job challenging, rewarding

Guy Rouelle, the state's aeronautics administrator, is shown at Middlebury State Airport.

Provided Photo

Guy Rouelle, the state's aeronautics administrator, is shown at Middlebury State Airport.

Some jobs allow people to leave at about the same time each day.

Such is not the case for Guy Rouelle, Vermont’s aeronautics administrator, who has fielded many calls at odd hours since he took this job in 2011. And he always has to be ready for that, especially during a stormy winter when snow removal is a top priority.

“In this job, we’ve got moving airplanes, fuel trucks, snow removal … We have a lot of things going on all the time,” Rouelle said.

He has been with the Vermont Agency of Transportation since 2003, when he worked for the agency as a pilot. At the time, he did disaster relief flying and also flew with the Agency of Natural Resources’ enforcement division, for the state police and also for river management officials who wanted to observe how waterways were changing over time.

In 2009, the Agency of Transportation reorganized. He was hired as the state’s aeronautics administrator in 2011.

Rouelle oversees every aspect of Vermont’s 10 state-run airports, from budgets and federal grant applications to buildings and maintenance. But he has help from regional airport managers Jen Davis, who’s in charge of the northern airports, and Chris Beitzel, who’s in charge of the southern airports.

“They’re my management team,” Rouelle said. “They report to me, and they have airport operators who report to them.”

Working with his team and local community partners, Rouelle has been able to turn around the financial picture for the state’s airport program.

“Five years ago, we were looking at, ‘Which of our airports are we going to close?’” he recalled. “And now in 2016, we have eight of 10 of our state airports operating in the budgetary black.”

In that way, one of the job’s biggest challenges is also its greatest reward.

“What’s most exciting to me is the ability to take … what were aging and failing airports and design and execute a plan and actually see it come to fruition,” he said.

Rouelle said the goals in the systemwide plan, approved in 2007, are for the most part now reality.

“Ninety-five percent of what’s in that plan we’ve accomplished,” he said.

The scope for a new systemwide plan was recently completed, but has not yet received final approval.

Creation of the new plan has taken up a fair amount of Rouelle’s schedule in recent weeks, but other tasks have come to bear as well, including improvements at several airports.

“Every day is a little different,” Rouelle said of his job.

He talks with the leaders of every airport each day to check on issues that might need addressing, and each Friday he gets on the phone with federal officials to talk about each federally funded project at the airports.

Rouelle pointed out that none of these projects would be successful without buy-in from local officials and communities. He keeps in touch often with local economic development officials. Just last week, he had a call with Rutland Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Lyle Jepson, Rutland City Mayor Christopher Louras and other local leaders to talk about the future of the Rutland airport.

Rouelle said there’s been plenty of activity at the airports in recent years, including improvements at the airports in Rutland and Morrisville. Newport’s airport is in the middle of a 1,000-foot runway extension, among other projects. The Middlebury airport has in the works a 700-foot extension of the runway and taxiway which is projected to start next spring, Rouelle said.

He said the southern regions have very active airport committees, which help keep the community involved with its own airport and the planning process. These committees usually have airport users, business owners and representatives from the local select board, chamber of commerce and local and regional planning commissions.

Rouelle said his team is working on having more airport committees for the northern airports. With an active group like that, he added, “you have a really vibrant airport.”

A major driver of that vibrancy is the aviation education program Rouelle’s team has throughout the state’s airport system. These include aviation camps, glider and plane rides for kids and other events that bring in the community.

Rouelle said this coordination with the community “brings young and old to our airports” and “shows people the value of our airports.”

He added, “For some of the young girls and boys, they want to know how to be a pilot, whether it’s a plane or helicopter pilot.”

Rouelle said the outreach efforts have a positive impact that’s similar for any local place.

“If it’s a really vibrant piece of infrastructure, and if (people) went there, had a good time once and hear about something else going on there, they’ll go again.”

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