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When I was a young girl, my father would take the family to various airport days and aviation events in California. I grew up with prop tags, airshow hot dogs, and the sounds of warbirds. As an adult, I have continued to love attending and putting on events at general aviation airports.
With warmer weather, we have an opportunity to fly more. This also means that your airport will be receiving more visitors. Spring is the time to look at your airport from a fly-in guest’s perspective and spruce up. The little things matter to visitors of our over 5000 GA airports. Are your facilities clean? Is signage adequate so folks know where to park and how to get into town? Is it clear which events are going on at your airport?
Think about the way the community views your airport. With encroachment from housing, our airport that used to be out in the “middle of nowhere” can now be right in the middle of a neighborhood. Like it or not, noise complaints can be a real concern to the future of your airport. As an ASN volunteer, you can make a difference in decreasing our noise-footprint on our surrounding community. Consider reviewing current noise abatement policies and perhaps updating them to a “best practice” approach. In business, there are good, better, and best practice methods. When it comes to being a good neighbor, let’s focus on best practice.
Another way to be a good neighbor is to have fun events at your airport that are open to the public.
Presently, I am preparing for the Oceano Airport Celebration, May 12th and 13th at California’s Oceano County Airport. This annual event is a salute to those who are serving or have served our country through the military. We collect items for military care packages and make sure they get sent to our front-line troops. From the Friday night “Beach Burger Fry and Dance”, to the full Saturday “Airport Day”, we can attract more than 100 airplanes to our beach-side airport. This helps our community increase tourism, inspires the love of flight, and demonstrates the need for airports in communities.
As AOPA ASN volunteers we can do something! We all know that the cost of flying is on the rise, so we need to make those dollars count. Yet, we also need to support the culture of GA. We can all make sure our home airport has a positive impact on our community by making it ready for fly-in visitors.
These suggestions are based on the experience gained in the successful effort to essentially save the Venice, Florida Municipal Airport from a determined movement by a local group to close it, or at a minimum drastically reduce its utility. Today the airport is among the best general aviation airports in Florida. That condition can in great part be attributed to a supportive City Council and excellent airport management. Such was not always the case.
Some airport problems can be traced to lack of interest or support from the governing body or authority and not necessarily to local anti-airport fervor. In that case, tailor the “To Do” list to respond to that situation. The following points are by no means exhaustive and every airport situation and the challenges it may face are different. However, going through these points will help respond to whatever the challenge.
Understand that although a few people may do most of the work, they have to be recognized as speaking for many more. They should not be perceived as a voice in the wilderness. Be prepared to be involved. Be committed. Airport issues are rarely an overnight struggle.
Go to local government meetings and get to know the players. Understand the politics and know what to expect from your local politicians.
We accumulated a substantial database of discs, and many boxes of letters, reports, records, maps, and other documents.
Determine the financial benefit to the community and local area. In many states, the State Department of Transportation or State Aviation Authority does this. If not, then your own statement about the economic impact of the airport.
Get the facts. Clearly define the issues and concerns from all quarters. In some cases, nearby residents object to aircraft noise. In others, real estate developers recognize the potential value of the airport’s land for non-aviation uses. Other issues may revolve around environmental concerns or financial concerns.
Identify community groups and reach out to them. Get the facts out, address falsehoods, misstatements, misleading and incorrect information (whether offered accidentally or on purpose). Reach out to the community at large. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Hold airport open houses and other airport informational events.
Respond to misunderstandings, misstatements, and falsehoods. Clear the record, respond, and write short responsible letters to the editor. Do not allow false, misleading, inaccurate, misstated, out of context anti-airport allegations and innuendo to stand unchallenged. Always respond with facts, unemotionally, and do not get personal. As the old saying goes: publish or perish.
Last year, as the local ASN volunteer, I was instrumental in changing the plans for a new taxiway at Wilbarger County Airport near Vernon, TX. Currently, there is no taxiway or run-up area for runway 16/34, which intersects runway 02/20 near it’s center.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TX DOT) wanted a parallel taxiway to runway 16. The taxiway that TX DOT proposed would have crossed runway 20 near mid-field. However, most of the users preferred a taxiway that connected Runway 20 to runway 16. This choice would yield a slightly longer taxi length for some individuals but will prevent midfield runway incursions. There was no cost difference between the two options.
How did we do this? We got involved during the planning phase and before any engineering or soil sampling. I developed a survey for users to voice their preference. Approximately 50 of the survey forms were returned to the airport manager. All but one indicated a preference for the taxiway that connected the ends of runway 16 and runway 20. Then I asked the FAA to participate. They refused to express an opinion other than an email that said, "Any option that is likely to reduce runway incursions would be preferable.”
During a planning session with TX DOT and airport officials, TX DOT was still determined to go with the parallel taxiway. As the session was ending I asked, " Who would be held liable if an accident occurred as a result of a runway incursion? The threat has been identified so it seemed likely that the airport or TX DOT could be held liable." A few days later, the airport manager let me know that they had decided to go along with the taxiway that 98% of the users preferred.
It will still be a couple of years before the work is done but because of persistence, we will be getting the taxiway the airport users wanted.
As aviators, we are wired to have a special kind of reflex. It causes us to look up, smile, and possibly more. It has only one known cause: the sound of an aircraft flying overhead. If this occurs while you’re standing next to another person, who doesn’t share our wiring, they may look at you with raised eyebrows. Aircraft noise means different things to different people. For some, it is “the sound of freedom” or a cue to look upward in gleeful anticipation. For others, it is a nuisance that never fails to disrupt their backyard barbeque on Saturday afternoon. Some are further angered by their belief that each passing airplane is dumping a bevy of toxic chemicals into their air and soil.
When those who dislike aircraft noise attempt to reduce traffic at their airport, they quickly find that imposing flight restrictions at most public-use airports is no easy task. If an airport is grant obligated, it is illegal to enforce noise-based restrictions until a lengthy, and costly, process has been completed. For more information on that, refer to FAR Parts 150 and 161. However, persistent noise complaints combined with organized political action can lead to flight restrictions such as curfews. As a precursor to airport closure, it is important to recognize the consequences of aircraft noise impacts on communities near airports.
Follow your noise abatement procedures whenever it is safe to do so. It may be necessary to periodically review the procedures if the landscape around your airport has been changing. If your airport manager seems frustrated with your fellow pilots, one way to diffuse the situation is to invite them to a meeting. Remember, your airport manager may be on the receiving end of some very callous noise complaints. It’s great to remind them that pilots want to be good neighbors.
For decades, AOPA has been reminding pilots of our obligation to “fly friendly”. By following sensible noise abatement procedures and taking positive action to prevent residential development in areas where it doesn’t belong, we will ensure future generations benefit from the robust system of airports that we enjoy today. So fly often, fly safe, and fly friendly!
Upon learning that the fees to park overnight at Baltimore-Washington International Airport totaled some $153 and that avgas was $8 a gallon, the pilot of the Piper Saratoga decided to go elsewhere. But he did take the time to complete AOPA’s online form reporting the higher-than-expected fees. He is just one of hundreds of pilots who sent in examples after AOPA reported earlier this year that it was seeking information on FBO fees that seemed beyond market norms.