When state officials proposed to improve taxiway access to the shorter of two runways at the Wilbarger County Airport in Vernon, Texas, a veteran flight instructor and other airport users countered with an alternative they said would lower the runway incursion risk.
Mary Latimer, an instructor, designated pilot examiner, and AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer at Wilbarger County Airport, said she knew that it would take an organized effort to replace an “entrenched” plan to build a taxiway parallel to the 4,304-foot-long by 80-foot-wide Runway 16/34.
But it would be worth it to avoid having the taxiway cross 5,099-by-100-foot Runway 02/20 at its approximate midpoint. And the users’ alternative would spare pilots on final approach to the longer runway concerns about a taxiing aircraft suddenly appearing on the rollout portion of the runway at exactly the wrong time.
It wouldn’t change the breadth of the project much, she told AOPA by phone, if the new taxiway were positioned at the north end of the airport, giving access to the takeoff ends of both Runway 20 and Runway 16 with no incursion risk.
To demonstrate to officials at the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division that users supported a relocation of the planned taxiway, Latimer surveyed the approximately 50-member airport user community—many members of whom are her former students—and held informational meetings, at which overwhelming support was expressed for the idea.
“It didn’t take much convincing on my part,” she said of the process, which resulted in the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division going along with the users’ plan, with construction to be scheduled in the next one or two years.
“Any idea to minimize runway incursions was a better option.”
If educating stakeholders on the incursion risk of a new taxiway design paid dividends, educating members of the aviation community is a continuing project for Latimer, a corporate pilot and retired air traffic controller, and her pilot husband Lawrence. The Latimers are the chief instructors of the nonprofit GIFT Academy (GIFT stands for Girls in Flight Training), a weeklong for-women-only aviation clinic in which their pilot/instructor daughter and granddaughter join in taking on the teacher’s role.
Latimer said she founded GIFT Academy, now in its sixth year, as a way to expand the number of women pilots from the six-percent figure at which it has remained stagnant for 100 years. The effort appears to be paying off, based on results AOPA reported in this AOPA Live video, which noted that several participants completed knowledge tests—and even a few checkrides—after a recent clinic’s completion.
Yasmina Platt, AOPA Central Southwest regional manager, was a participant and teacher for the 2014 program, and will do so again this year when the program comes to Elk City, Oklahoma, May 29 through June 3, she said.
Latimer can’t emphasize enough the supportive importance to aviation as a community to its members. And she credited AOPA’s support of volunteers and other members of local airport communities as playing a major role in encouraging airport users to express themselves with a unified voice about planning decisions that affect airport operations.
“I am glad to be able to report a positive outcome for our airport,” she said, referring to the taxiway project decision. “Knowing I have the support of AOPA is a big part of stepping up and pushing for what we, the users, prefer instead of allowing the project engineer to dictate what we will get.”