Pilots at Santa Maria Airport (SMX) on California’s central coast are learning their way around new taxiway designations — but they aren’t happy about it.
Neither are the controllers who man the tower at the airport, who claim they were not consulted on the changes.
According to Airport Manager Chris Hastert, a runway extension project completed in 2012 necessitated a taxiway extension, which led the FAA to take a new look at the way the taxiways were named at the World War II-era airport.
Airport officials hired a consultant to come up with a way to make the taxiways less confusing. The consultant, referencing FAA Advisory Circular AC 150-5340-18F, concluded the most logical course of action was to give the taxiways alpha-numeric designations such as A1, A2, and so forth.
“Taxiway Echo spanned the entire airport,” Hastert explained. “If there is something wrong on Taxiway Echo, it’s going to be a challenge to find the problem. Saying there’s something wrong at Alpha 1 is much more precise.”
Earlier this year, the California Pilots Association and staff at the SMX control tower raised a loud chorus of opposition to the redesignation project, alleging it could lead to potentially deadly situations as pilots and controllers familiar with the old taxiway layout could get confused.
SMX Tower Manager Jim Jones claimed the controllers were not consulted before airport officials began the project.
“If you are going to do a runway extension project, you need to consult with the tower,” he said. “The tower had no input in it whatsoever and the way it was done.”
Jones contends the tower staff were not made aware of the project until May 2011, well after a plan had been created and was slated for implementation.
“They spent $225,000 for the creation of a plan that doesn’t make any sense and is unnecessary,” he said. “Having one strip of pavement and giving it four taxiway names doesn’t make any sense. We told them that the Advisory Circular is advisory, not mandatory.”
Hastert counters that first draft of the plan was made available to the public well before the work began.
“We had the draft plan available to our local tenants and it had been on the front counter of the airport office for public review for a year,” Hastert said, adding that suggestions from the tower controllers did result in some modifications to the plan.
The controllers are not the only ones upset. Mitch Latting of the California Pilots Association, noted that the association packed public meetings to show opposition to the redesignation.
“Myself, the SMX Tower manager Jim Jones, along with controller Curtis Fleming, were able to provide information that the proposed taxiway plan was both incorrect and not a ‘simple and logical’ layout as depicted in the FAA document,” Latting said. “After the meeting, board members said they would like to take a look at the plan Jones had created, which is a simple plan that merely added a couple of new taxiway signs to the existing taxiway system — certainly not redesignating the entire airport.”
Latting added that Jones has called the original taxiway layout at SMX “one of the simplest and effective taxiway plans he has ever run across. He also enlightened us that there have been no runway incursions at SMX for at least five years.”
Despite the opposition to the redesignation, the work began this spring.
“There will be a learning curve,” Hastert confirmed, adding that airport officials, tower personnel, pilots, and the FAA are working to educate airport users.
As this issue was going to press, the SMX ASOS carried a NOTAM advising pilots that the taxiway renaming project is complete and new airport diagrams are being created.
“Everybody likes familiarity,” noted FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. “SMX pilots and air traffic controllers will have to get used to the new airfield taxiway designations.”
For more information: SantaMariaAirport.com