AOPA VP of Airports Bill Dunn (center) with Ruth Varn, chair of the Airport Advisory Commission, and Jack Tunstill, AOPA ASN volunteer for SPG
AOPA is involved in hands-on fights at two Florida airports being threatened with closure. AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn met with airport supporters and city officials in St. Petersburg to discuss Albert Whitted Field (SPG), while AOPA Regional Representative Nelson Rhodes helped airport advocates in Stuart plot strategy to support Witham Field (SUA).
"These airports are a vital part of a national transportation system and must remain open and available without unnecessary restrictions," said Dunn. "In each case, anti-airport activists have cajoled local officials into at least considering the airports' closure. The best defense is always a good offense, so we've been working with airport supporters to help explain the benefits of a GA airport to the community and dispel the misinformation being given to the public at large."
After more than 20 years of relative quiet, St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Field is under attack from anti-airport forces that have gotten a referendum onto this November's ballot, calling for the airport to be turned into a park by 2011.
The airport has not one, but two vocal support groups. Dunn met with leaders of each to discuss a grass-roots strategy to spread the word about the value of the airport. He also met with two city council members who are pro-airport, and with Mayor Rick Baker. On the record, Baker is impartial but is reported to be in favor of converting to a park or downsizing the airport to a single runway. Dunn told Baker that SPG carries FAA grant obligations until 2021, and that the FAA says it will take action to prevent the city from violating grant obligation and will not agree to the airport's closing prior to 2021. Dunn told the mayor that passage of the park initiative would essentially place the city into violation of federal rules and likely would lead to costly and drawn-out litigation against the city.
In Stuart, Martin County commissioners have bowed to pressure from local anti-airport activists and commissioned a study of three options for SUA—downsizing, relocation, or closure. Rhodes, AOPA's regional representative, has met with local pilots, AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer William Stewart, and airport businesses to plan strategy. AOPA has written to the commissioners, saying that closure or access restrictions not consistent with FAA regulations would violate FAA grant obligations.