Randy Craft was just a kindergartner when he watched his father Donald Rae solo from a central Michigan airfield near the family’s grass strip. The sight of his dad lifting off struck a chord with the younger Craft and he knew that someday he, too, would be a pilot.
For 40 years Donald handled state and FAA paperwork to keep the family’s 2,600-foot privately owned, public-use grass strip licensed and charted, but when he died three years ago, Craft, who was grief-stricken, failed to meet the requirements for public-use status. Craft Airfield was dropped from aeronautical charts and no longer buffered from encroachment. An investor bought the adjacent property and proposed a 199-foot tall telecommunications tower less than a tenth of a mile from the approach to Craft Airfield’s Runway 9. The tall tower would be a safety concern and could cause Craft to close the airport.
“My dad was a pilot his whole life and I was there with him when he soloed in a J-3 Cub in 1965. I was just a little fellow back then, about 5 or 6 years old. After that, I flew with my father all the time. We put that grass strip in, back in 1972 and I’ve been a pilot myself since 1978,” Craft said.
Bryan Budds, AOPA’s Great Lakes regional manager, sprang into action on Craft’s behalf. AOPA wrote a letter to the Aurelius Township supervisor urging the town to prohibit construction of the proposed tower. However, once an airfield loses its public designation there’s only so much AOPA can do, Budds said. “If this airfield was in public use right now, there’s absolutely no way a tower could be located that close to the end of the runway,” Budds said.
When an airfield is opened for public use, Budds explained, both the state and FAA are involved. Private airfield owners lose a lot of protection when their airfields are not charted and licensed and are open only for private use.
Airfield owners often contact AOPA for advice on how to save privately owned airfields from closure. The association offers recommendations to help airfield owners stay on top of things.
For instance, local pilots, tenants, and airport businesses can form a pilots association. They can stay actively involved in community affairs by attending meetings and keeping an eye on zoning requests. Since airports are public assets, they can win support from the local nonflying community, too.
Federal airport development assistance for privately owned, public-use airfields helps protect them, but that protection does not extend to private-use airports. Without federal or state involvement, AOPA’s ability to influence the local issue is very limited. Still, AOPA will pursue all available avenues to encourage the entities that can protect the airports to do so.
“Aurelius Township represents the only line of protection for pilots operating to or from the airfield,” Budds told the township supervisor. “We strongly urge you to fully consider all impacts to safe aviation operations to and from Craft Airfield when considering any permits related to the 475 Kipp Edgar monopole.”
Now, the town’s decision in favor of the airfield is Craft’s only hope.
“When dad opened up the airstrip, it was privately owned and available for public use. It’s been a public-use airport until he passed away three years ago,” Craft said. “I don’t have a problem with a tower, but just not at the end of my airstrip.”