Vancouver negotiates delay to FAA rule changes

The City of Vancouver, Wash., and Washington Senator Patty Murray’s office negotiated an 11th hour reprieve from a sudden rules change announced by the FAA that was to take effect Monday, Sept. 24, at Pearson Field.

Emails received by the city from David Grizzle, Chief Operating Officer of the FAA, and Roderick Hall, assistant administrator for Government Affairs, indicated that the “FAA will be delaying implementation of any airspace changes for at least 30 days. During this time we intend to re-engage with stakeholders to see if we can find some middle ground on this issue.”

On Sept. 20, the city and local pilots were formally notified of a new FAA rule that would significantly change aircraft access to shared airspace between Vancouver’s Pearson Field and Portland International (PDX) within 10 days.

City officials said the new rule created “significant safety risks” as access to its airspace shrinks, causing small planes to circle over Vancouver, Clark County and northwest Portland neighborhoods, while waiting for approval to land.

Implementation of this rule could have significant financial impacts to Pearson Field and loss of revenue to the city and the region, city officials add. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation Aviation Division, Pearson Field and Museum attracts 39,500 visitors to Vancouver for combined annual revenue of $26,998,080 and generate roughly 458 jobs with combined wages of $7,375,786. There are over 50,000 aircraft operations each year at Pearson.

The city said the FAA did not follow proper public notification or address safety, economic and environmental impacts of the rules change.

“Our local Senators and Congressional representatives really stepped up on this to help us — in Washington, Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell and Jaime Herrera Beutler and in Oregon, Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Earl Blumenauer — we can’t thank them enough,” said Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt. “Senator Murray in particular helped negotiate an 11th hour reprieve with the FAA before we took more drastic legal measures.”

“Support from aviation groups included the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Washington Pilots Association, Pearson Advocates For General Aviation, Fort Vancouver National Trust, users of Pearson Field and others was invaluable,” the Mayor added.

At close of business last night, Murray’s office forwarded the city an FAA offer to delay rule implementation for at least 30 days so the issue could be more publicly addressed.

“We worked side by side with our aerospace and government colleagues to reason with the FAA, to appeal to our elected officials, both to ask the FAA for more time and to reinstate the proven solution to air safety in Vancouver- an air traffic control tower, not the unproven solution the FAA was mandating,” Pearson Airport Manager Willy Williamson said.

On Oct. 1, the FAA intended to implement its new procedure, which is unique in the country instead of an air traffic control tower, which had proven effective at Pearson in the past year. Pearson Field is the only Class D airport in the country without an on-field control tower.

The city of Vancouver and the Port of Portland have safely and effectively shared airspace on both sides of the Columbia River for more than 50 years at their respective airports — Portland International and small, historic Pearson Field.

Located directly east of I-5 and just north of Highway 14, just across the Columbia River from PDX, Pearson Field is operated by the City of Vancouver and funded by the users of the airfield. In 2001, the National Air Transportation Association named it one of America’s 100 “Most Needed” Airports.

Pearson Field is also one of the oldest operating airfields in the US and recently received national recognition through the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) as a historic aerospace site.

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