Airports do not close overnight. Usually there is a string of events, often taking place over several years — perhaps decades — that put the existence of an airport in jeopardy.
What should you watch out for? Here’s a short list with some suggested solutions.
Problem: Lack of an updated Master Plan for the airport — or the reluctance to draft one. This is akin to launching a business without having a business plan. It isn’t enough for someone in a position of authority to say “we would like to build hangars.” An airport sponsor (or owner) needs to plan for improvements, such as grading the area or putting in the plumbing or electrical infrastructure that will someday, say 10 to 15 years out, be attached to hangars.
Solution: Insist that the Master Plan be developed and kept updated. Attend city council and planning committee meetings to keep the issue on the radar.
Problem: Lack of available buildable land in the community. This is especially true in urban areas where an airport has become penned in by encroachment from roads, homes and commercial development. The airport becomes very valuable to developers.
If the airport is privately owned, it is a prime target because these airports usually don’t qualify for federal or state grants and the cost of running the airports may force the owners to close them. Be wary if the airport owner or sponsor starts selling off or leasing parcels of land for non-aviation uses.
Solution: Get on the mailing list for public hearings about zoning changes. Watch for “For Sale” signs around the airport.
Problem: Frequent noise complaints or a noise study in the works. When the airport is perceived as a “bad neighbor,” it is a lot easier to get the decision-makers to see the airport as a nuisance rather than an asset to the community. Very often the complainers are a handful of very vocal people. Some will claim that when they bought their home the realtor told them that the airport was not very busy or was closing “soon.”
Solution: Develop noise abatement procedures for the airport. Encourage all pilots to follow them. If possible, obtain a list of the names of the complainers. If a housing development is proposed near or under the airport traffic pattern, pressure the planning commission to include avigation easements in the deeds. Remind pilots to be wary of people who come onto the airport and copy down tail numbers, then call in bogus complaints.
Problem: Lack of buffer land between the airport and residential areas. A golf course, wetlands, a landfill, a small forest — all these mitigate airplane noise. Without them, aircraft taking off and landing fly low over populated places.
Solution: Encourage your community to maintain open spaces. Keep updated on development proposals in your community.
Problem: Misinformation about crashes. The “crash” may have been nothing more than a hard landing by a Cessna 152 that ended up in the grass with no injuries. In the wrong hands, the incident will become a fully loaded King Air 350 that came down in a schoolyard.
Solution: Counter this misinformation with the facts from the National Transportation Safety Board database (NTSB.gov).
Problem: Lack of a control tower. There are some in the aviation-impaired community who think that a control tower is the only thing that keeps airplanes from crashing.
Solution: Explain how non-towered airports work, paying special attention to educating the media.
Problem: Lack of fencing around the airport. To the aviation-impaired, this implies a lack of security.
Solution: Explain that airports are like small towns and no one can do anything without it being noticed. Talk about the Airport Watch program. For more on that program, go to AOPA.org.
Problem: Lack of commercial airline service. To some, a lack of commercial airline service gives the impression that the airport is used strictly as a playground for rich men with their expensive toys.
Solution: Get the word out about the medical flights, training flights and businesses that rely on the airport. If a major employer in town uses the GA airport because the company can’t afford to have its people sitting around waiting for airline flights, let that be known. Also, educate the community on how many of their neighbors have been saved in medical emergencies.
Problem: The airport does not have any FAA or state grant obligations. These grants stipulate that an airport stay open for a certain number of years, usually at least 20. If the airport sponsor decides to close the airport sooner than stipulated in the grant, the money must be repaid. Most sponsors don’t have the money to repay the grants in a lump sum, therefore they cannot close the airport.
Solution: Help the airport sponsor get educated about all means of grants. Check with your state department of transportation.
Problem: There is a local election coming up and a candidate is a strong advocate of closing the airport.
Solution: Educate the candidates — and incumbents —about the role of the airport in the community. Be warned: some of the candidates won’t even come out to the airport because they have already formed their opinions. They will continue to tell lies about the airport, such as “there are only two or three people who use it.” Make sure this dishonesty and lack of knowledge is made public.
Problem: There is a lack of communication and/or relationships between airport officials, airport advocates and the general community. If the non-flying public sees the airport as a playground for a privileged few, it is not likely to support it.
Solution: Offer to help host open house and airport day events. Get local service clubs and organizations to participate. Make it a family friendly event.
Problem: The airport lies in the path of a major civic project, such as a highway extension. Just like most everything else that lies in the path, the airport can be condemned.
Solution: This is one that you really can’t stop, but you can keep tabs on development in your community and voice your opposition if it looks like the airport is threatened.
Is your airport in danger?
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