Threat to ban aircraft at North Las Vegas thwarted

April 9, 2009

A Nevada resolution that would have asked Congress to award precedent-setting authority to a local aviation agency to preempt the FAA and ban any general aviation flight activity deemed “high risk” at North Las Vegas Airport has been reworked.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Clark County Aviation Association, key state legislators, and AOPA, the Nevada Senate’s Energy, Infrastructure, and Transportation Committee instead unanimously passed a resolution on April 8 to support a stakeholders group of FAA officials, AOPA staff, local pilots, and the Clark County Department of Aviation to develop meaningful solutions to improve safety at the airport.

“After much discussion over the past several weeks between AOPA and several key legislators, we are very pleased that committee members agreed on a sensible solution that can be a model for solving airport-community issues at the local level,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy, who testified at the hearing. “Importantly, we found a solution that fits within the existing laws governing how we manage the nation’s aviation system.”

Sen. Dennis Nolan, a member of the committee, helped AOPA delay the hearing until April 8 to allow more time to work with bill sponsors State Sen. Steven A. Horsford and Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick to create a positive plan of action to improve safety at North Las Vegas Airport without attempting to preempt the FAA’s authority.

“SJR3 as initially written could have had serious negative repercussions on a national level,” said Nolan, who added that the coordinated effort to reach a meaningful solution was a “classic example” of the importance of AOPA involvement in issues at the state level.

The effort to ban experimental aircraft from flying out of North Las Vegas Airport began after two fatal aircraft accidents occurred at the airport in less than one week in August 2008. The first accident involved a Velocity experimental aircraft, which crashed into a house killing the pilot and two people on the ground, and the second a Piper Navajo, which crashed into two houses. The pilot was killed, but those in the homes survived.

AOPA and the Air Safety Foundation immediately reached out to the shocked community to explain the rarity of such incidents and to educate them on GA safety. The foundation also sent an e-mail to 3,000 pilots living in the area, encouraging them to take the foundation’s online safety courses.

Multiple public meetings followed the tragic events to discuss the accidents and aircraft flying at the airport. AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Kathleen Snaper attended the meetings to provide critical information to AOPA and help calm residents.

AOPA and the foundation continued working in the communities well after the accidents, meeting with Clark County elected officials and hosting a seminar, “Safe Skies, Good Neighbors,” in January to remind pilots of some safe practices for flying over urban areas.