Pearson Field airspace issue resolved

Airspace operations at Pearson Field (VUO) and Portland International Airport (PDX) will remain unchanged, thanks to the efforts of Washington and Oregon elected officials, local pilot groups and the FAA.

Pearson Field, located in Vancouver, Wash., six miles from PDX, is one of the oldest continually operating airports in the United States. On Sept. 20, 2012, the FAA unveiled changes to the airspace which would have entailed Pearson-bound traffic orbiting over neighborhoods until PDX tower gave them clearance to enter the shared airspace known as the Pearson Box.

The changes were slated to take effect Oct. 1, 2012. Pilots were quick to tell the FAA and elected officials that the proposed box would create more problems as pilots at Pearson delayed takeoffs or landings while waiting for permission from PDX tower.

Pearson Airport Manager Willy Williamson also was quick to point out that both PDX and VUO had co-existed safely for decades before the box proposal.

Although Pearson does not have a control tower, it is designated as Class D airspace. The airspace over PDX is designated as Class C airspace.

Over the course of two years, the FAA held three safety review panels to examine ways to keep the airspace safe for all air traffic. The most common recommendation was to put a control tower at Pearson Field. However, the FAA decided that a tower was not justified.

Ultimately, it was decided that how traffic had been handled for years was the best way to keep everyone safe. A few additional controls, including staffing a Pearson advisory position in the PDX control tower, and additional training for pilots, was also recommended.

“The biggest winner is the flying public,” said Williamson. “We have proven our operations and procedures are as safe as possible in this unique airspace, and that the FAA’s Safety Management System works well also.”

Williamson noted the resolution has been a long time coming and involved long discussions between the FAA, elected officials, and the flying public.

“We can’t thank our elected officials enough for their support,” he said. “We also want to thank the FAA for ensuring airspace safety and for being open to listening to all viewpoints.”

The airspace issue is not the only recent challenge at Pearson Field. In early February the National Park Service took the keys and security codes for the Pearson Air Museum, citing concerns over the lease. The museum sits on six acres of NPS-owned land adjacent to the airport.

The museum is operated by Fort Vancouver National Trust. According to NPS officials, the trust was not operating the museum in accordance to national park policy, which includes maintaining tranquility at parks.

The museum was the location for benefit events for non-profit organizations in the Portland area. These events, plus donations, kept the museum doors open.

Trust officials note they tried to negotiate with the NPS to obtain permits for these larger events, such as benefit concerts for servicemen returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, but the NPS delayed or denied the permits because the events are contrary to the NPS policy.

Elson Strayhan, president and CEO of the Fort Vancouver National Trust, noted that the museum is on land bordered by a railway and a freeway and it lies beneath the approach to PDX, all things contrary to maintaining tranquility.

When negotiations with the NPS fell through, rather than hand over the museum building and all the artifacts, many of which are on loan to the museum, trust officials deemed the best course of action was to remove the artifacts, including aircraft. Many were placed into temporary storage in personally owned hangars at the airport. Museum officials are continuing to negotiate with the NPS to re-establish the museum.

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