November 11, 2009
BY PHIL BOYER
Airports and their neighbors coexist peacefully, and even enthusiastically, in most cities across the United States. As a national organization, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association sees airport noise issues arise from time to time. The theme is nearly always that the airport must go; these cries to close the airport or restrict its operation usually are driven by a handful of local citizens whose opinion is not widely shared by other members of the community.
It's particularly ironic, however, to see this scenario playing out at Scottsdale Airport. Five years ago when we produced our "Local Airports: Access to America" video, AOPA used Scottsdale and the airport as an example of how an airport and its neighbors complement each other. It included interviews with local businessmen and then-Mayor Sam Campana. Many credit the airpark with putting Scottsdale "on the map." Indeed, one of the primary reasons Scottsdale is a vibrant community today is because it has an airport. According to an analysis updated by the city last November, the Airpark generates $2.5 billion to $3 billion in annual economic activity; the airport alone has an annual economic impact of $182 million.
Businesses depending on the airport will be forced to move if the airport is closed, and the community will suffer. A mile of highway will get you one mile, but a mile of runway will get you anywhere in the world - an important consideration in today's global economy. It would be a shame for a progressive community like Scottsdale to lose its competitive edge.
And Scottsdale's airport has been very proactive when it comes to airport noise. Scottsdale was the first non-airline airport in the country to complete a noise study and receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots know about the airport's noise abatement procedures, and employ techniques like those in AOPA's Flying Friendly videotape to minimize aircraft noise.
All 12 operational recommendations of the original study were implemented. However, only two of 11 land-use alternatives have been fully implemented. That's the key to a long-term solution. California and Florida restrict incompatible land use near airports. Some states require disclosure of nearby airports to prospective homebuyers. It's too late to prevent development around Scottsdale Airport, but other common-sense measures would go a long way to helping alleviate the problem.
Although operations at Scottsdale Airport increased by 5 percent between 1997 and 2003, consultants updating the airport's noise study have found that the area of highest aircraft noise is almost completely on the airport property. And the updated study shows that the number of people impacted by aircraft noise has actually decreased since the original study was completed in 1995 - a clear indication that the effort was successful.
Contrary to what some may think, a noise study will not lead to closure of the airport. There's no guarantee that airport operations will be limited by a curfew or other restrictions. If some homes are severely affected by aircraft noise, the FAA may provide funds to purchase them and relocate their occupants, but this can disrupt a neighborhood.
Closing the airport at night would be equivalent to closing I-10 or I-17 at night. The impact would be tremendous - not just locally but nationally, because like the Interstate highway system, airports are part of a national transportation system. A mile of highway will get you one mile, but a mile of runway will get you anywhere in the world.
Some critics say the airport should be closed. Such attempts would be costly not only to the city, but to the local community. Since 1982, the City of Scottsdale has accepted more than $14 million in federal airport development funding. These funds came with a contractual obligation to keep the airport open and operating as an airport. FAA approval of a closure is not very likely (and would require an act of Congress) because the FAA is not in the business of closing critical aviation transportation facilities. Scottsdale is part of a larger system and cannot be viewed as an island; what occurs there impacts the nation. Business travelers could not access Scottsdale as conveniently, and the local economy would suffer. Airlines would lose future pilots because they could not learn to fly. There would not be anyplace in the city to stage law enforcement or firefighting aircraft in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. A sick child in critical need of specialized medical treatment would be delayed. To learn more about general aviation's contributions to your community and the nation, see the General Aviation Serving America Web site ( www.GAServingAmerica.com).
A mile of highway will get you one mile, but a mile of runway will get you anywhere in the world. Which is more important to you and your community?
Phil Boyer is president of the 400,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
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