The 355,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has added its voice to those trying to preserve Plum Island Airport—a historic airstrip serving the popular Newbury/Newburyport area on the Massachusetts coast between northern Boston suburbs and New Hampshire.
The Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), the airport's owner since area property was granted to it in an estate bequest, is considering closing the airport. The airport has operated at the current site since 1934 and dates back to 1910.
Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president for regional affairs, told the historic preservation group, "Plum Island Airport is one of the oldest privately owned, public-use airports in the country, the testing ground for the early biplane of aircraft designer Augustus M. Herring and Marblehead yacht builder W. Starling Burgess."
"The airport is not only rich in history, it serves an important transportation need," Dunn emphasized. Plum Island is the only airport in the I-95 corridor between Beverly in the northern Boston suburbs and the Pease International and Hampton airports in New Hampshire.
SPNEA told the airport's operators it does not plan to renew their 35-year lease and intends to close the airport, in part because of insurance concerns. SPNEA is concerned about the remote possibility that an aircraft might hit the seventeenth-century Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm house, one of SPNEA's four museum farms, located near the runway.
"AOPA strongly urges that your reconsideration carefully weigh the irreversible implications of closing this historically significant airport," Dunn wrote SPNEA. "AOPA does not dispute the need to protect this historic farm, but the outright closure of Plum Island Airport is not the only choice available."
Dunn noted that AOPA has been active in educating pilots about the importance of being a "good neighbor" to communities surrounding airports. He added the association could assist local pilot groups in developing airport flight procedures to better protect sensitive properties.
AOPA also reminded SPNEA of the importance of the airport to surrounding communities and their economies. Interestingly, members of the local community have been supportive of continued airport operations.
The association noted that three area airports had already been closed, leaving few options except Plum Island to meet aviation needs in the area.
"Plum Island Airport is a vital part of the state and national transportation system," said Dunn. "It provides jobs and economic support to the local economy valued at over $2.9 million per year. But once an airport is lost, it is almost impossible to replace."
"We believe closing Plum Island is not the right choice," Dunn concluded. "We hope SPNEA will fully explore and acknowledge the opportunities the airport provides for the benefit of the surrounding area."
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Nearly 7,000 of the nearly 10,000 pilots in Massachusetts are AOPA members.
April 17, 2000