Trimming trees


“Any new ideas regarding the trees?” someone asked. A group had gathered to discuss, among other things, the trees at the end of several New Jersey runways, forcing the implementation of displaced thresholds. These trees are on adjacent properties and oftentimes the land owners are less than receptive to our plight. That question launched a discussion that should have been as unnecessary as it was frustrating.

New Jersey has laws on the books that grant municipalities the means to trim or remove the trees in question. So what’s the problem? A lack of motivation on behalf of the municipalities, combined with a lack of repercussions for not enforcing the law. Much discussion led to the realization of a few simple facts. The government officials failing to act on trimming the trees are elected politicians who will likely be seeking reelection. The general public (i.e., voters) are not big aviation fans. Suffice to say it’s a better decision for a politician to save a tree rather than, in the eyes of the public, make room for more and larger airplanes to fill the skies above their homes.

While we are working hard on the short-term process of lowering those trees, it’s important we consider the future and the long-term solution. And I have an idea. It certainly isn’t foolproof, but it’s relatively easy, and has some terrific side effects: We need to change the perception of general aviation. Currently we’re considered elitists with oodles of money ripping through the sky burning holes in the ozone as we fill the air with soot and noise for no other reason than to amuse ourselves. This is of course as inaccurate as it is popular.

We need to — all of us — make a greater effort to expose non-fliers to the reality of aviation and alter their misconceptions. There are so many ways for us to do this, and the best part is that most of them involve taking someone flying. It’s simple: Take your neighbor who’s never been in a small plane up for a ride. Fly over his house, and land somewhere for lunch. Not only will you win his heart, but rest assured he’ll go to the office and tell all of his friends.

Become involved with Angel Flight, Pilots N Paws, or any of the countless aviation-oriented charity organizations that are in place just waiting for volunteers. Bring a Boy Scout troop to the airport, take some of the kids flying and answer questions, enabling them to earn the aviation merit badge. Engage the local fire and rescue squad to visit the airport for an up-close look at various planes. Explain how the seatbelts work, where the fuel tanks are located, and other pertinent information that could save lives in the event of an emergency.

In short, the answer lies in getting involved. The more people that see GA for what it is and not what they believe it to be, the better off we will be as an industry. For each individual that we educate, we can count on several others learning the truth.

Who knows? If all goes well we may make a few new friends, gain more students, and perhaps have an easier time securing the cooperation necessary to trim the trees.

Matthew Kiener is an ATP, CFII, AGI, and owner of a Cessna Aerobat based at Sky Manor (N40) Airport in Pittstown, N.J. He can be reached at


  1. says

    Thanks Matt! Here’s the MAAC position

    Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition
    P. O. Box 673
    Long Valley, NJ 07853

    April 18, 2011

    The Honorable Chris Christie
    Office of the Governor
    PO Box 001
    Trenton, NJ 08625

    Dear Governor Christie,

    It was good to see you at the NAS Wildwood town meeting last month. As you saw, Cape May County Airport is a perfectly good General Aviation airport. Like our highways and bridges, small airports are vital portals to the rest of the country for commerce and economic activity. Half of the trips made in small aircraft that use airports like Cape May County are business related. Those businesses create jobs and generate tax revenue. The State’s investment in small airport infrastructure makes NJ more attractive to those companies that utilize the convenience, efficiency and security of general aviation.

    In 2009, $7 million was allocated by NJDOT for small airport safety and capacity improvements. None of that amount was invested in our airports. There is also a separate aviation safety fund generated from taxes on aviation fuel sales. That money is supposed to be dedicated to airport safety improvements but it is currently used to pay NJDOT salaries.

    Here is the question I did not ask at the Town Hall meeting. I am most concerned that the State is doing nothing to remove trees at the end of runways at our small airports. Many public use airports do not have clear approaches. We have lost the linear equivalent of two runways because trees have displaced the landing areas on so many airports – Somerset, Lincoln Park, Alexandria, and Sky Manor to name a few. This reduces the capability of those airports to accommodate business class aircraft and imposes a significant threat to the safety of pilots and their passengers.

    NJDOT has all the regulatory authority they need to address what is a clear hazard to pilots and passengers. Yet DOT refuses to take action. Clearing trees at the end of runways is the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to make our small airports safer and more attractive to business aircraft operators. If DOT cannot remove trees, can we at least find out why they cannot or will not do it?

    Yours truly,

    William B. Leavens

  2. says

    Cutting trees surrounding an airport has been an issue in California for years. Mostly, the refusal to do so is used as a deterrent for the supposed increased airport usage by the uninformed, and anti-airport crowd.

    We worked hard to get a few old oaks cut down in a northern California GA airport, even after the Court issued a decree to the county to do so. Our letter asking the county when trees became more important than human safety seemed to help them finally carry out the task. Trees can be replanted, and should be as part of the solution.

    Additionally, it appears to be even more difficult to get local aviation advocates involved with issues that affect even their own airports. Having said that, the key is to get engaged and to stay engaged on airport issues, or suffer the fate.

    Ed Rosiak
    President – California Pilots Association

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