AOPA has noted the growing pressure on Redlands Municipal Airport by two pending residential developments.
"With over 200 based aircraft and 44,000 operations per year, Redlands Municipal Airport is a significant general aviation airport operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week," wrote Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports, in a letter to Redlands Mayor Jon Harrison. "We believe that if approved, adding over 100 additional residential units will have a significant impact on the airport." Dunn reminded the city of its obligation to the FAA, since federal funds were used to develop the airport, to limit development around the airport to compatible uses. Dunn sent copies to Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Gilbreath and the California Division of Aeronautics.
The Redlands Daily Facts reported on January 18 that the Redlands City Council called a controversial development near the airport an attractive project, but decided to wait 90 days. By that time an updated airport master plan and land-use compatibility plan will be available. The paper quoted Gilbreath as saying she thinks the development can ultimately be compatible with the airport. The project by Walton Development would add 81 homes near the airport, raising concerns that there might be an increase in noise complaints and potential lawsuits that could ultimately force an attempt to limit airport operations.
In addition, a 26-acre Ryland Homes project has been proposed near the airport. That project, the Redlands Daily Facts reported January 12, has been denied by the city Planning Commission. The homes would fill in an existing housing development because they would be bounded on three sides by that development. Planning Commission Vice Chairman James Macdonald was quoted by the paper as stating he is "not against" the project, "just against the location and timing, given the state of the master plan." The paper also reported that the original Ryland Homes tract has been labeled "the mistake" by some planning commissioners. The commission decided developers will have to come forward to the city under the new rules once the airport master plan and compatibility study are updated.
The disappearance of commercial tenants from Brackett Field in La Verne and complaints over increases in commercial rents by American Airports Corp. have sparked controversy at the airport. The stage is set for the controversy to grow.
It also has launched a host of rumors about the airport and its future. Most of them, according to sources contacted by AOPA, are untrue. For example, the airport is not in danger of closing. The officials of the Los Angeles Fairgrounds and a nearby park do not want a chunk of the airport's land. It is true, as sources confirmed, that with the loss of Air Desert Pacific flight school the number of yearly operations will decrease dramatically — perhaps by as much as 80 percent. That, in turn, could make it more difficult in the future to justify the presence of a control tower at the airport. Pilots who operate at the airport and Los Angeles County officials said the school went bankrupt in December, although there are reports that it would relocate.
Two or three other businesses have left the field as well since 2003. American Airports Corp. operates Brackett Field and four other airports owned by Los Angeles County. It also operates an airport on Midway Island. In the past the company sought a long-term lease for New Orleans Lakefront Airport, a move that was opposed by AOPA.
Additional lease negotiations are in progress at the airport. "It never has been our intention to drive someone off the airport," said Kris Thabit, president of American Airports Corp. located in Santa Monica. "Some of the commercial companies have been paying little for 10 years. You're going to make waves when you seek a fair market rate." One of those commercial rents was $2,200 per month, but was to increase to between $6,000 and $8,000, one source said. Thabit could not confirm the higher numbers, but provided the $2,200 figure for this article. American Airports sets the rental rate for commercial customers, while Los Angeles County sets hangar rental rates. There are 350 or more vacant tiedowns at the airport.
"We will fill the commercial vacancies quickly," Thabit predicted. He said there are 206 hangars at the airport and all but seven have tenants.
Under federal grant obligations for airports accepting federal money, such as Brackett Field, rates that keep the airport as self-sufficient as practicable are allowed "for current circumstances."
An inexpensive system designed to help prevent runway incursions is expected to begin operational tests in March on Runway 30 at Long Beach/Daugherty Field. Called the Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal (FAROS) system, it uses sensors to detect aircraft or other vehicles on the runway and automatically "flash" that runway's precision approach path indicator (PAPI) lights to indicate to approaching aircraft when the runway is not clear for landing. The testing period will last from several months to a year. The system can just as easily be used on visual approach slope indicator (VASI) lights. Runway 30 is generally used by airliners. The exact starting date in March of the demonstration is yet to be determined.
FAROS is operated by a standard personal computer and adapts proven inductive-loop technology, like that implanted in streets and highways to control traffic signals, to detect when aircraft and airport vehicles enter and leave a runway. The system and software were developed by Architecture Technology Corp., of Minneapolis, and can be easily adapted to different airports.
The concept came from an FAA research and development advisory subcommittee chaired in 1998 by AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg. "The idea was to avoid complex and expensive engineering that would have been needed to provide special lights on aircraft," Landsberg said. "Instead, [the subcommittee said] use the existing runway infrastructure. Inherent delays in other proposed runway safety systems have allowed some really close calls at major airports. Pilots are in the best position to avert a collision when there are only seconds to react."
On his subcommittee was Chris Kunze, manager of the Long Beach airport, who was enthusiastic about setting up a demonstration. Kunze brought in his Special Projects chief Christine Edwards, and discussions were conducted with Architecture Technology project engineer Kirk Swanson and his supervisor, Noel Schmidt. Then the idea was proposed to the FAA.
Two years ago a prototype of the system was tested for four days at Long Beach using a Cessna 210 as the approaching aircraft. A target aircraft was allowed by tower controllers to enter the runway as the 210 approached. Landsberg was among the observers on the aircraft. "It worked great," Landsberg said. "On a five-mile final at night, in haze, you could see when it was flashing. On short final the pilot still got vertical guidance from the PAPI, but the flashing indicated the runway was not clear. We didn't see the aircraft playing the part of the intruder until three-quarters of a mile."
Air traffic controllers were concerned. They didn't want to answer pilot inquiries every time the lights went off. Landsberg said he believes that won't be a problem, because controllers are already required to notify pilots who have been cleared to land if an aircraft is taking off prior to their arrival. If the approaching pilot is on a long final, he will know the PAPI (or VASI) lights are flashing for the departing aircraft. "If you are on short final and the lights continue to flash, query the tower," Landsberg said. The lights stop flashing once the departing aircraft or crossing vehicle crosses a second sensor.
Additionally, controllers did not want to monitor a screen in the tower that is currently associated with the test system. A computer display in Edwards' office that is used for testing purposes only shows a runway diagram and the location of the sensors, and outlines in red the sensor group where the intrusion is occurring. Edwards indicated during an interview in her office above the Long Beach terminal that the system is passive; there is no intent for controllers to monitor it now or in the future. "Controllers are still cautious about it," Landsberg said.
Obviously, the system has been in the works for a long time. Part of that was because of construction at Long Beach airport, Edwards said. "The system two years ago wasn't robust enough, and used radio signals, which suffered from interference and used solar power. So, as part of our Runway 30 rehabilitation that we are just completing, the FAA came in with a contract with Architecture Technology to go harden the system, and hardwire both the power and communications. The delay was due to the rehabilitation of our runway. On top of that, the project had to work its way through all the FAA hurdles to get approved. That might have been the larger hurdle," Edwards said.
An FAA official confirmed there was debate over the system within the FAA. "We're a safety-conscious organization and want to assure that the operational test system meets the same high safety standards that would be required in an eventual national deployment," said Jaime Figueroa. He is manager of the Surface Systems group in the FAA's Technology Development organization. He said air traffic management representatives are "pretty much on board" with the operational test now. Some of the FAA flight standards officials wanted to assure that the system would not be distracting or confusing to pilots, and air traffic representatives wanted assurances there would be no false alarms during the test that would cause pilots to go around unnecessarily. "Now people are willing to do the test, while before it was explained to them they were saying don't even try it," Figueroa said.
If the operational evaluation of FAROS is successful it could prove the system's value for other airports. It is expected that FAROS can be purchased and installed for $500,000, depending on the size of the airport and options needed. For more information, visit the Web site.
Stockton city officials have issued a notice of intent to prepare a draft environmental impact statement for a multiple-use development south of and contiguous to the Stockton Metropolitan Airport. The proposed development is called Tidewater Crossing. The 878 acres involved in the project are used for farmland and rural homes. If approved, the new development would include industrial; retail/commercial; low-, medium-, and high-density residential; school; and flood-control uses. There would be 2,500 homes and an elementary school for 1,100 students. Unfortunately, the development would be under the downwind leg of the traffic pattern for Runway 11R/29L. And it is a busy pattern. Stockton has 230 based aircraft and 75,000 annual operations (takeoffs and landings), including significant air-cargo activity.
On January 23 AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn wrote to the Stockton Planning Division expressing concerns about the residential and school elements of the development plans. "Our vast experience has shown that residential development and schools in close proximity to an airport creates poor public policy, and we strongly encourage the city to carefully examine this proposal in the environmental impact report," Dunn wrote.
Dunn pointed out that California's Airport Land Use Planning Handbook published in 2002 requires any environmental impact statement to analyze the impact of noise and overflights on residential and school areas. In addition, the California Education Code requires an analysis of the school site.
When the county accepted federal funds for development of the airport, it was required to assure the FAA that it would take "appropriate action to the extent reasonable" to restrict land "adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of the airport to activities and purposes compatible with normal airport operations, including landings and takeoffs." AOPA's advice was for the city to check with the FAA about the compatibility of the proposed development plans.
"We believe the city should explore a more airport-friendly and compatible use of the land as an alternative to the residential and school elements of the proposal," Dunn told the Planning Division. It was directed to Mark Martin of that division, and copies were sent to Stockton airport manager Barry Rondinella and Mary Frederick of the state Division of Aeronautics.
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