Under construction: Airparks as a way to save airports?

I moved to the Tacoma, Wash., area in 1970 and almost since that first day I can remember threats being sounded about Tacoma Narrows Airport (TIW). The airport is located in the county across a bridge from the City of Tacoma, very close to the small community of Gig Harbor.

Because the airport is owned by the city, located in an unincorporated area of the county and adjacent to a small, affluent community (you can translate the latter into anti-airport), it has had nothing but troubles. Tacoma and county officials seem to be in eternal disagreement about anything that has to do with the airport.

Now, because of years and years of serious mismanagement, the airport has lost money, although some argue that’s as much because of the way the books are kept as anything else. A new city manager took over Tacoma about a year ago with a mandate to bring the budget under control and get the city out of the red.

How to do it?

Of course one way is to close or sell the airport, according to the manager.

I could write all day about the problems that have evolved. It wouldn’t take much for most folks who understand airplanes and flying to appreciate the pros and cons. Unfortunately, the ones who will make the decisions aren’t folks who have much aviation knowledge.

One of the means I’ve suggested (without much success, I have to admit) has been to develop a residential community on the west side of the airport on land that’s now vacant. Sell off the land for upscale homes for those who will be able to land at the airport and taxi to their homes. Gee, what an interesting concept, people who aren’t familiar with residential airparks have commented to me. I’ve pointed out to the powers that be that such developments occur around the country and more are underway all the time. Such projects provide good income at the time of the property sale; they generate excellent taxes because the homes are usually larger than average. FBOs like it because they have built-in customers (unless they are complete idiots) and the airport ownership should appreciate the fees paid by the property owners in through-the-fence agreements.

Unfortunately, that seems to make way too much sense for a lot of local bureaucrats and politicians.

As a result of my thinking of the Tacoma Narrows problems, I’ve decided to take a more proactive role in encouraging other residential airparks around the country. Since I started tracking residential airparks as part of our Living With Your Plane national directory of residential airparks, I’ve always limited listings to airparks that are open for operations. Over the years I’ve seen an awful lot of fantastic airpark plans fall apart because of lack of money, hitting a stone wall with governmental agencies or not being able to get customers to buy the lots and build homes.

To encourage these projects I’ve now started a new list of projects in the planning or construction mode. I make it as clear as possible the potential problems of buying a lot on an airpark that isn’t finished and operating. Once those reservations are out in the open, however, most people should be able to make up their minds and get deals arranged with adequate safeguards should something not work out.

If this type of support helps some additional residential airparks get underway, the effort will be well worth the risk and it might help save facilities like Tacoma Narrows Airport.

So, if you’ve got a project underway or know of one anywhere in the country, please go to our website (LivingWithYourPlane.com) and click on “register your airpark.” Type in “under construction” where it asks for the date opened and provide as much information as available. We’ve already started listing such projects and there are currently six airparks on our “Under Construction Directory.” I expect to see a lot more in the near future. (By the way, you can see this new directory as well as lots of other information by subscribing to Living With Your Plane. It only costs $20 a year and you get a lot of material and information, in addition to the directories.)

In the meantime, I’ve already gotten an article printed in the local daily newspaper and I intend to continue working on city council members with whom I am acquainted.

I’ll keep you posted!

Dave Sclair, co-founder of Living With Your Plane, was co-publisher of General Aviation News from 1970-2000.

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