Pa. town urged to take back anti-airport stand

GA could revitalize the closed Willow Grove NAS

April 12, 2011

Officials in Horsham Township, Pa., ignored an opportunity to welcome good jobs and enhanced safety services to their community when they passed a resolution denouncing aviation as a future use of the Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, AOPA said in a letter to the township’s council.

AOPA called on Horsham leaders to look to the examples of other communities who faced the loss of military bases but turned economic hardship into innovative redevelopment, with general aviation leading the turnaround.

AOPA Vice President for Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn appealed to the township council to reconsider language in the April 4 resolution that characterized “airports of any nature” as having “an adverse impact on the quality of life for the residents of the host community.” He expressed AOPA’s “extreme disappointment” with the document that recommends redevelopment of the facility without an aviation presence.

“In reality,” Dunn wrote in an April 11 letter to Horsham Township Council President Mark McCouch, “airports make an invaluable contribution to our quality of life and our public safety and health.” From lifesaving medevac flights to aerial firefighting to agricultural aviation, Dunn highlighted “the many ways a nearby airport benefits any community.”

The Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base was listed for closing five years ago during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. The Horsham Land Reuse Authority was then created to accept reuse proposals for submission to the Navy, which has ceased operations at Willow Grove and will relinquish the property at the end of 2011. The Wings of Freedom Museum is located on the base and might have to move or close if aviation uses are banned on the premises.

In March, Bucks and Montgomery counties submitted proposals to the reuse authority to maintain parts of the airport for GA use, recognizing its value in job creation and economic redevelopment. Horsham, north of Philadelphia, is within Montgomery County.

The Aviation Council of Pennsylvania also supports establishing a GA facility at Willow Grove.

The Horsham Township Council responded April 4, passing the resolution objecting to aviation use of the property and urging instead that the base’s surplus property be “incorporated” into the community. The resolution also characterized any plans for a business park with an aviation maintenance facility as contrary to community interests.

“The resolution contained a number of statements that AOPA felt were misleading and shortsighted,” Dunn said.

“If Horsham township is truly interested in improving the quality of life for its citizens, we suggest that the township fully examine the opportunities that might be available through inclusion of an aviation element in any facility reuse plan,” Dunn wrote to McCouch.

Dunn noted that an economic rebound that could serve as a model for Horsham is under way in Brunswick, Maine, the site of another recently closed naval air station. That facility’s economic development authority has brought Kestrel Aircraft to town, where it plans to certify and manufacture a single-engine turboprop, bringing much-needed employment to the area.

Dunn also suggested that the Horsham Township Council may have been under a mistaken impression about the types of aircraft that would use a civilian airport at the site when it denounced the idea.

Most GA aircraft using the airport would be “significantly quieter and smaller” than past military users have been, he said.

Dunn is encouraging residents of Horsham to contact local officials and request an open discussion of an airport’s potential benefits.