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Exhaust Port
12-20-2003, 09:26 PM
Being that we just had the 100 years of flight anniversary pass us I figure I'd throw out another topic of a somewhat similar theme, local airports.

Over this last year the small local airport in my town has been developing what is called a Master Plan. Every 20 years an airport must publish an evaluation of it's current operations/facilities/utilization and develop several options for the future; this is called the Master Plan. Most MP's have about 5+ possible options for change at the airport. They ususally range from adding a control tower (even at the smallest airports) or new runways to completely eliminating the airport all together, all options are evaluated.

The airport is owned an operated by a state university and home to the Universities flight school which makes up probably 90% of the traffic in and out of the field. The airport Master Plan is just about complete and we've had several town meetings for answer/question sessions with the planners who have gathered the data and developed the different outlines for the airports future. I was able to make it to the last meeting to voice my opinions on the whole deal.

Basically it comes down to this: The University is interested in raising some capital so they might want to move the flight school, close the airport and sell the land. If they don't move they are probably going to make plans to improve the airport operations/facilities. The FAA has specifically said that they aren't in the business of closing down airports and are against that action. The community for the most part is supportive of the airport and the flight school operations. There of course is a vocal minority that made up about 95% of the last meeting that is dead set against the airport.

There are 2 main arguments that these folks had.

1. Safety: By having airplanes fly over their houses they are running the risk of being killed by an errant aircraft. An increase in operations would increase that risk.

2. Noise: Airplanes are loud and are a constant annoyance as they fly 24 hours a day over their houses (not true but it's their argument). More aircaft = more noise = more often.

A little about the airport: It was first opened in 1911 as a landing field for Curtis Jenny's (I believe) as they were ferried from Canada and the East Coast to the rest of the US. It later became home to a training program for WW2 initial pilot training. Eventually it was bought by the University and they opened a flight school there in the late 1960's. It's a small 1 runway airport that has less than 1 mile of asphalt to land aircraft on. Orginally it was in a remote, undeveloped part of town but has since become boxed in by stores and now houses. In fact, the latest development that went in was placed literally on the end of a runway and is full of $500,000-$1 Million houses. They had to sign a notice before moving in or building a house stating that they were aware of the airport being there and the implications that it brought.


So here I am at this meeting filled with people from not only some surrounding developments but those that moved into the expensive houses just off the airport property. They were *****ing and moaning about the noise and safety along with the rest of them. The only option in a Master Plan that they are interested in is the one that eliminates the airport.

Are these concerns really the responsibility of the airport? Should these residents have the right to control what goes on at the airport? ((It's important to note that nothing drastic will be added/grown at the airport)). Should residents, some of which have only lived there for 2 years have hte right to demand a public facility eliminate operations or shutdown all together? What are your thoughts and experiences with these types of small, local airports in your towns?

JediTricks
12-22-2003, 02:41 AM
Having lived within 3 blocks of LAX directly under the landing flight path, under both the landing side and take-off side of Santa Monica airport, and now under the flight path for Childrens Hospital air ambulance helicopters, I have seen and heard an awful lot of the underside of aircraft over my life. At LAX, the ground shakes and you can't hear anything except the roar of the jumbo jets every 15 minutes or so, and each time they dump their toxic fuel right onto the residential areas beneath them. Here in Los Feliz, helicopters go flying by every few hours night and day which is amazingly unnerving, especially since one fell out of the sky a few years ago and smashed into Griffith Park (killing the little girl they were trying to save, even though the accident she was in was much closer to a local hospital than Childrens'), some of the choppers are air ambulances, some are news, and some are police with their night-suns peering into windows. Living under the take-off side of Santa Monica airport, there's that odd dull buzzing roar that interrupts phone conversations and the occasional screaming private jet, and it's illegal at the local park to fly model rockets, airplanes, or even kites; but the airport itself has an old-fashioned sense of history and civic weight to it, it's fun to visit and enjoy. However, the flip side of that (literally) is that the landing-pattern side sees far too many crashes, the kind that smash into peoples' homes and start fires which destroy next door houses, and there are 4 or 5 public schools under that landing pattern. There is no way to really warn someone of the constant buzzing and roaring and the sun being blotted out for a few seconds a time all afternoon and the inability to fly a kite, you can tell someone but until they experience it for themselves, until their sanity is tempered by these things, the paper they sign claiming they understand is meaningless.

So, do the newcomers have a right to complain? Yes, but the airport's deciding board should also weigh in that factor when making their decision. Ultimately, if it's all newcomers complaining and too few others come to the airport's defence, maybe it has outlived its usefulness in that location. The local airport is currently seen largely as an expensive playground for a select few, the mail doesn't come in through these little airports, nothing exciting ever happens, many seemingly do nothing but take up space rather than contribute a meaningful amount of business, and far too few bring any sense of local excitement and adventure to the majority of the citizens it's supposed to serve - a majority, I might add, that don't fly locally anyway. It's not like the great expanses of Alaska where the concept of the air taxi is not only romantic, but oftentimes necessary. When that sense of romance and necessity can be brought back to the local airport in a fresh new way, only then will the fate of the small local airports be taken into larger account than the local community college school board elections. Santa Monica airport used to be next to some of the top flight engineering firms of its day, which made the airport vital to the area's economy and also an exciting place to be - now that aerospace has moved away, even with the museum, a public observation building, and a park next door, the place seems to most of the locals like a musty old plot of tarmac that at best invites mosquitoesque Cessnas overhead and at worst puts their families at risk. In my opinion, the public has a right to speak their peace on that sort of thing.

Exhaust Port
12-22-2003, 11:05 AM
Good points JT. It was somewhat amusing as each person spoke that they would justify their remarks by either how long they lived in the area or how close to the airport they live. I personally have over 27 years spent under the airport traffic pattern. :) Anyway, soon after one particular gentleman spoke about the noise and how close he lived to it another gentleman totally trumped him. His backyard is literally the runway and he admitted that he loves it. He has a scanner tuned to the airport frequency at all times and often sits to watch the small aircraft coming and going. You cannot live any closer or have an unrestricted view than this guy. He's not even a pilot or ever had an association with aviation. His point was that the airport was there before anyone moved in and it's their own darn fault for assuming that they airport didn't generate any noise. The safety concern is something that should have been addressed with the development builders since they were the ones that built the houses where they now lay.

I have to assume that the real-estate folks brought their prospective buyers out on a weekend when the airport traffic is at it's lightest. Since most flying is associated with the University's flight school it's done between 8-5 Monday through Friday just like any other class. The flight school also shuts down for any State observed holiday. Honestly, if you're going to have an airport next to you this is the type to have. During most operational hours the average person is away from home. The problem seems to be that they are hypersensitive to any aircraft noise and rather than remember the 5 hours at home with no noise they remember the 2 minutes each night that they hear an airplane fly overhead. Being that none of these folks are associated with aviation they don't seem to realize the big picture here. Most of the night traffic they complain of is landing at a large city airport 10 miles to the south. They just put the blame squarely on the airport down the street.

As for safety, as far as anyone can find in the history of the airport that there has never been a fatality on or around the airport. One house was hit about 20 years ago but no one in the house or in the airplane were killed. The nice thing about the aiport being a training facility is that the level of structure, procedures and supervision easily surpasses other small airports.

The local community seems to be very excited by what the airport provides. First, it is now the last piece of open land left in the city. Thanks to the city planners, every family farm has now been torn up and made into dense housing. That is what happened at the south side of the airport. What use to be acres and acres of open land is now these dense homes. A lot of people have mentioned that they don't want to see this last piece of greenery gone.

Secondly, the University and City planners put together a free airshow and festival. Well, it's not so much an airshow as most aircraft just fly in and there are limited flyby's. But the big flyby every year is a pair of F-15's that has the lead aircraft flown by a graduate of the local high school. It's all very exciting and draws an average of 30,000 people in a town of a similar size.

I guess the problem is that supporters don't show up to meetings like these. If you like something you don't think to show up and say that. Only if you have an axe to grind will you show up. I spoke and did feel I was in the minority. Only after the meeting of 100-150 people did others come up and thank them for my words. Why the heck didn't they take a moment to say something?

JediTricks
12-23-2003, 01:13 AM
I think the problem is that those with civic pride in the airport generally don't feel a need to fight for it, they probably see it as fighting for a somewhat pleasant bus depot. Then there are those who feel that the airport is a pointless luxury - like a marina or a model rocketry park or a municipal golf course - that caters only to those who own and fly the planes, they may like the airport, but it's hard to justify fighting for something you see as frivolous and without significant merit. Think of the turnout if someone suggested closing the municipal lawn bowling park, sure you'd have some old folks trying to fight that, but nobody else would care - sadly, that's what the little local airport has become.

I still think the key to bringing the airport back to life, so that kids want to go to it on field trips, is to find a way to make it romantic and exciting like you see in those old pre-WW2 flyer movies like "Only Angels Have Wings".

Exhaust Port
12-23-2003, 09:30 AM
Getting the community more involved has been sorely lacking for years. Even after countless attempts to light a fire under those incharge they rather not get the public eyes trained on them. As if acting invisible would fool those against the airport that they weren't there anymore. Bad P.R.

As for the usefulness of the airport, as I said it's been a training facility for over half a century. It's produced everything from 1000's of airline/cargo/corporate pilots to 100's of military pilots, not to include the years it operated as a military cadet training field. In fact the very first female Marine fighter pilot is a graduate of the program. There are close to 100,000 professional pilots in the country that transport passengers, move our cargo, fly injured people to airports, etc. Those professoinals have to come from somewhere. Most airports of this size aren't there to because Mr. Moneybags wants to fly his private jet to NYC for the weekend. A lot are actual schools or institutions of learning.

JediTricks
12-24-2003, 05:17 AM
Yeah, but it's hard to get people to think of it that way. It's funny, when you look at a train station, most train stations still have that romantic air about them even if they're just a nowhere whistlestop; yet airports have totally lost that, both big and small. It's too bad, but the powers in charge seem to prefer that level of anonymity over projecting a sense of civic importance.