AOPA takes fight for backcountry airstrips to new level
Feb. 4, 2004 AOPA, in its continuing fight to protect pilots' access to backcountry airstrips, has appealed a U.S. Forest Service decision to ban all but emergency access to four such strips in Idaho. The association maintains that the Forest Service does not have the required authority to close the Dewy Moore, Mile-Hi, Simonds, and Vines airstrips in the Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness area.
AOPA President Phil Boyer recently met with Sen. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), a strong supporter of the backcountry airstrips, about measures to keep them open. "I thanked him for his past support in the struggle to keep these airstrips open," said Boyer, "and suggested that now would be a good time for the Forest Service to hear from him and the rest of the Idaho congressional delegation."
"We do not believe the Forest Service satisfactorily considered the comments of the aviation public before issuing [their decision]," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula. "Furthermore, the Forest Service has failed to receive the approval of the Idaho Division of Aviation before closing the airstrips, as required by federal law."
AOPA last year turned to the Idaho congressional delegation to help bring the Forest Service back to the bargaining table. But the agency had already signed its record of decision closing the airstrips. Officials pledged to review pilot comments but that it could only be done through the formal appeals process.
In that decision, the Forest Service claims that the four airstrips are unsafe. AOPA's appeal states that the agency is neither entitled nor equipped to make that determination, especially without consultation with either the FAA or the Idaho State Division of Aeronautics the agencies responsible for establishing minimal safety requirements.
"While we recognize that these airstrips are unique and require certain skills and proper equipment to operate from them," wrote Cebula, "the association has found no data, including investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board's information on aircraft accidents, to support the claim that these airstrips are unsafe."