Education, compatible land use called for at North Las Vegas

November 3, 2009

A North Las Vegas stakeholder group of aviation officials, pilots, and community residents formed by Nevada Senate Joint Resolution 3 submitted 13 recommendations to the state legislature Nov. 1 in an effort to increase safety at North Las Vegas Airport. The recommendations call for increased safety education outreach and training for pilots and for laws preventing further residential and commercial encroachment around the airport.

“The ability of this stakeholder group of airport neighbors and users to work together is a very positive sign for continuously improving relations at North Las Vegas,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy. “Their very thoughtful work, based on a careful analysis of accident data, lays a strong foundation for enhanced airport safety.”

North Las Vegas Airport came under scrutiny in August 2008 when two fatal accidents, one involving a Velocity experimental aircraft and the other a Piper Navajo, occurred at the airport within a week of each other. AOPA and the Air Safety Foundation reached out to pilots, the community, and the state legislature in the wake of the accidents to encourage safety and calm the public outcry.

AOPA worked with SJR3 sponsors State Sen. Steven A. Horsford and Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick to turn the resolution from a call for a ban on experimental and “high risk” flights at the airport to one encouraging aviation stakeholders to work together to ensure safety at the airport.

While the recommendations do not call for experimental aircraft to be banned at the airport, they do request that the local FAA flight standards district office strictly enforce an existing order to prohibit Phase 1 flights of experimental aircraft. Aircraft in this phase have “25 or 40 hours of flight time depending on the aircraft's engine and propeller combination.”

Regarding pilot education and training, the group encouraged continued AOPA and FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) outreach. Flight instructors, designated pilot examiners, and FAA operations inspectors were urged to emphasize proper fuel management and aircraft performance, specifically the effects of crosswinds and high density altitude. The aircraft performance recommendations stem from an analysis of the 43 accidents that occurred within 10 miles of the airport between January 1999 and September 2009. The most frequent causes of accidents during that time were loss of directional control and fuel mismanagement, according to the report.

“The Air Safety Foundation reached out to nearly 200,000 individual pilots with safety education materials last year in order to raise safety awareness and enhance pilots’ knowledge base,” said AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg. “Pilots cannot afford to become complacent, and we’re striving to reach as many as we can with safety messages ranging from weather to aircraft performance and systems to runway safety to fuel management.”

The group recognized that pilot training and recurrent safety education is only one part of creating a safe environment at North Las Vegas and encouraged airport sponsor Clark County Department of Aviation to buy land adjacent to the airport to prevent non-compatible land use. It urged the cities of North Las Vegas and Las Vegas to prohibit “the construction of new buildings, communications towers, or other obstructions above a safe height in the immediate vicinity of North Las Vegas Airport.” Additionally, stakeholders suggested that the Nevada state legislature create legislation that would prohibit residential housing and other non-compatible land uses around the airport.

Those actions, the report says, would provide a larger area for aircraft to land in case of an emergency, prevent the possibility of aircraft colliding with tall towers, and protect the airport in future community planning.

AOPA Regional Representative Stacy Howard and AOPA Air Safety Foundation Director of Operations Kathleen Vasconcelos participated in the stakeholder group to help represent general aviation pilots’ needs and educate those involved of the importance of protecting the airport.

“This is a true testament of what can be accomplished at the local level when all parties—aviation and nonaviation—are brought together to resolve a problem involving the airport,” Pecoraro said. “The wisdom of the state legislature to create this group and the group’s willingness to search for the best possible resolution have set the stage for continued safety and positive community relations in North Las Vegas.”