I grew up at Shady Acres (3B8), a residential airpark in Spanaway, Washington. My parents owned the home, of course, but I very much benefited. Along with the two-acre lot with its home and hangar came a share in the runway and taxiways. My parents had “skin in the game.”
Recently, two events from opposite sides of the country put this memory from my past in stark contrast.
As recently reported in AVweb, “the Holly Hill (South Carolina) Town Council voted to ban any aircraft weighing less than 600 pounds at city-owned Holly Hill Airport (5J5), which has a 3,900-foot turf runway.”
In the case of 5J5, “health and welfare” were cited as the reasons for the restriction.
While the story cited two accidents in the past 18 months, a search of the NTSB database returns one hit in that time period, and just five accidents dating to 1979.
In her story, AVweb reporter Amelia Walsh includes a quote from Stacey Heaton, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Southern Regional Manager: “Unfortunately, without a local visionary leader for the airport, there is nothing to compel the town to look toward a better future for aviation in their community. If the airport were federally-grant-obligated, a ban such as this would have needed to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and that is a rare occurrence.”
On Sept. 16, 2023, Moses Lake Municipal Airport (W20) in Washington state was NOTAM’d closed from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Because EAA Chapter 355 scheduled a corn roast and BBQ for that date and had failed to secure a permit or a liability policy from the City of Moses Lake, owner of the airport.
I spoke with Ron Piercy, the chapter’s president. He told me the city asked for the $2 million liability policy on Sept. 14. As a chapter in good standing, a $1 million liability policy from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is easy to acquire. But doubling the value of the policy would require a jump in fees paid to EAA.
“And we are a small chapter,” he said.
The chapter moved the fly-in to a “crop duster strip three miles away” from W20.
Ron didn’t let the city know about the venue change. And the city didn’t seek clarification from the chapter before issuing the NOTAM.
After the city was made aware the event was not happening at W20, the NOTAM was canceled around 10 a.m.
Unlike 5J5, W20 is obligated by federal grants. With more than 50 based aircraft at the airport (as of Dec. 31, 2021, as reported by AirNav), the two-hour closure impacted more than just the members of the EAA chapter.
EAA Chapter 355 is about 50 years old and for most of its existence, it has hosted monthly pancake breakfasts — without a permit.
Ron told me he had no idea the city required permits for such events. The city cited a 2016 Ordinance (2817) that created Chapter 5.12 “Special Events” in the City Code.
At the Sept. 26 Moses Lake City Council meeting, Airport Commission head Rod Richeson expressed frustration about working with the city to best manage the airport. Ron followed Rod and told the council how wrong it was to close the airport.
The City of Holly Hill owns 5J5 and the City of Moses Lake owns W20. That being the case, even while long-term hangar owners and pilots may feel like it is “their” airport, they are, in fact, tenants.
For government-owned airports, generally, the city will lease the dirt on which hangars can be built. But ultimately, the lease will end, and the hangar will become the property of the airport’s owner or the tenant must remove the hangar.
Both of these examples are frustrating.
But author Seth Godin posted an interesting idea on his blog on Sept. 21, 2023, that I think may be useful to both 5J5 and W20 — and airports all around the country.
Rather than protest wrongs committed against airport owners, we should react with a project.
“Protests let off steam. A protest sends a message,” Seth noted.
But they are, oftentimes, “momentary, temporary and urgent,” and succumb to the status quo.
On the other hand, “A project is impatiently persistent. It plays a longer game, one that can outlast the status quo.”
Projects are measured by a calendar, not a stopwatch.
When is the best time to start an airport preservation and promotion project? 20 years ago.
When’s the next best time? Today.
After all, it is, kind of, our airport. We should work to protect it.