The lights are back on at the Tenkiller Lake Airpark in Cookson, Okla.—but not just to add some cheer to the holiday season. It was also a question of safety.
The Cherokee County Commission recently took over operations from a local airport authority that the commission concluded had become unable to manage the airport. One of the first things the commission did next was to reverse the airport authority’s move to shut down the pilot-controlled lighting along the airport’s 2,600-foot sod runway. The lights had purportedly been shut down as a cost-cutting measure.
The county commissioners’ action resolved a dispute that had run for much of the year. In May, AOPA wrote to the Cherokee County Airport Trust Authority requesting that the pilot-controlled lights be reactivated for night operations. Tenkiller’s AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer, Valerie Westedt, sought help from the county commission, and provided AOPA with airport operating information research. AOPA also raised the issue with the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission. The airport, known locally as Cookson airport, is home to 17 based aircraft.
The commissioners’ concern about airport management problems received local news coverage in October, when the county commission signaled its intention to take over airport operations in a court filing.
“Our ASN volunteer initiated regular and ongoing discussion with county commissioners and provided AOPA with information that indicated there was not really a budget shortfall that required cost-cutting through electric-use reductions for runway lights,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airport advocacy. “Following the local elections in November, the county commissioners removed all members of the Airport Trust Authority, and have temporarily taken over operation of the airport. One of their first actions was to turn the runway lights on again.”
Dunn praised Westedt for spearheading the local effort to restore safe conditions for pilots at Tenkiller. He described the restoration of lights as an example of what pilots can achieve when they rally to protect their interests.
“Tenkiller is a publicly owned, public-use airport with only 17 based aircraft, about 2,000 operations per year, and a 2,600-foot turf runway. It has no FAA Airport Improvement Program grants or obligations,” he said. “But advocacy and direct involvement by local Airport Support Network volunteers and based pilots, in partnership with AOPA, can dramatically increase the chances of protecting GA interests at an airport.”