President's Position

The blight path

February 1, 2000

Have you heard your airport referred to as a "blight" on the area? Individuals opposed to a new airport in Orange County, California, are actually circulating glossy printed materials carrying the headline "The Blight Path" in an effort to stop conversion of a surplus military airfield into a new civil airport. Unfortunately, this is exactly how many residents of communities located near airports view our national system of general aviation airports. Nonaviation individuals simply do not see the value that general aviation provides to the community. They also don’t understand the economic impact provided by business services at the airport—not only on the airport but off the airport property as well. Misconceptions and misinformation often lead to calls for a local airport’s closure.

For more than three years, you have told us that saving airports ranks among the top issues of importance to you. AOPA has focused significant efforts on ensuring the future of general aviation airports—the airports you use most often. As you may be aware, AOPA launched the Airport Support Network (ASN) in October 1997 with the lofty goal of designating an AOPA-member volunteer at every public-use airport in the United States. These volunteers would act as the association’s eyes and ears at their airports and provide on-the-spot monitoring of local airport problems. Early recognition of a problem often allows us to counter an issue prior to its becoming a major concern that could lead to calls for airport closure. We’re making significant progress toward this goal. At the end of 1998, ASN’s first full year, AOPA had appointed roughly 400 volunteers. A year later that number had jumped to 733 and is still growing, thanks to the efforts of AOPA members like you.

Your association has developed a number of tools to help ASN volunteers carry the positive general aviation message to the public. To educate the nonaviation public, there’s AOPA’s 24-minute video Local Airports—Access to America. To assist pilots in understanding the impacts of airport noise and what they can do to be good neighbors, we can supply the Flying Friendly video. There are important and informative ASN publications including Airport Minimum Standards for Commercial Activity at Airports, AOPA’s Guide to FAA Airport Compliance, and our newest book— AOPA’s Guide to Land Use and Airport Noise. In addition, a wealth of information is available to ASN volunteers through AOPA Online, the association’s Web site.

ASN volunteers, working with the AOPA Regional Affairs staff, have been active in a wide variety of significant, precedent-setting airport-related issues. These include many proposed noise restrictions, spanning some 46 different airports—including Camarillo and San Carlos, California, and Georgetown, Texas. There are 32 airports under the threat of closure, including Hawthorne and Dunsmuir, California, and Quonset Point, Rhode Island. AOPA headquarters has provided input on fees, rates, and charges at 18 airports; curfew proposals at four airports; obstacle construction at 29 airports; residential land-use proposals at 29 airports; residential encroachment at 50 airports; and proposals to limit airport activity or use at 22 different airports. This list is by no means complete. Through the Airport Support Network, AOPA received early notice of each of these issues and, by working with our ASN volunteers, was able to successfully defend the airport.

One of the more significant land-use issues saw AOPA join with a local California airport land-use commission (ALUC) and the California Pilots Association to defend the authority from a lawsuit brought by a local real estate developer. As is often the case, the builder wanted to construct a massive residential resort under the airport’s flight path, and was attempting to overturn the denial from the ALUC.

ASN volunteer Sandy Niles, at Rhode Island’s Westerly State Airport, sent us a message making sure that we were aware of a proposed obstruction. A previously drafted AOPA response was made more specific as to how this tower would affect the local flight pattern in a heavily used VFR route.

In California’s Los Angeles basin, Hawthorne Municipal Airport faced possible closure because of a city-supported shopping mall. At least, it did until pilots got wind of it through ASN volunteer Gary Parsons, who reported this to AOPA and has worked to form a strong pilot group to fight the closure. Your association has been involved in making contact with the city, federal representatives in Washington, and the FAA to prevent closure of this very important GA airport. The struggle continues, but the pilots’ efforts are making a difference.

We don’t win them all, as was the case when Lionel Schuman, our volunteer at Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda, Florida, reported plans for a mobile home subdivision adjacent to the airport. Although this development could not be stopped, Schuman has worked tirelessly with local zoning officials to ensure that this type of development does not happen in the future.

The AOPA Airport Support Network—working with you, our members—is in partnership to protect airports of today for pilots of tomorrow. The program is only as good as the people who volunteer. We need you in our five-year goal to sign up some 5,000 volunteers. Visit AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/asn/) to find out who represents your local airport, and for information on how you can join us as a volunteer. With this valuable program we can turn "The Blight Path" into the right path for protecting general aviation airports.