The recent editorial touting the positive economic benefits of the Vance Brand Airport (VBA) was aimed at rallying support for efforts to increase airport operations (Lewis/Slayter opinion 7/26/2015). The authors claim that further benefits will result from “implementation of the Airport Master Plan,” a veiled reference to the airport expansion, and particularly the runway extension that city council unanimously approved in 2012.
While you ponder the economic benefits provided as justification, consider the undeniable consequences of airport expansion: more aircraft, more flights, more touch-and-goes, more nighttime flights, more noise and more pollution.
In exchange for your tacit approval for airport expansion, the authors, on behalf of the city, promise to “continue working to address noise concerns.” Their efforts will include 1.) encouraging commercial instead of residential development near the airport, 2.) encouraging compliance with the voluntary noise abatement procedures (VNAP) and 3.) asking the FAA to enlarge or modify the skydiving “flight box.”
These promises are distractions, not solutions. What steps have been taken so far? None. In fact, noise from skydiving operations has increased since the recent lawsuit ruling in Mile-Hi’s favor. How would future commercial development help the people who are already subjected to the constant droning of the jump planes? Regarding the VNAP, there is no enforcement, no fines and no accountability for pilots who choose not to follow them. Consider that Mile-Hi Skydiving owner, Frank Casares, testified under oath that Mile-Hi pilots consistently follow the noise abatement procedures. Finally, expanding the flight box will only subject more people to the noise and allow more jump planes to operate concurrently.
So, what can be done to address noise concerns? Aviation attorney John Putnam presented a lecture in Longmont recently on this topic. The airport receives Airport Improvement Program (AIP) federal grants in exchange for assurances to keep the airport open to all aeronautical users on reasonable terms. The grant assurances limit the operator’s ability to adopt regulations to reduce noise.
Mr. Putnam stated that “[Grant assurance 22a] does acknowledge that airports can make reasonable rules governing the access to that airport. However, the key piece is that it has to be reasonable.” He also noted that a Part 150 noise study is voluntary and not required as a prerequisite for imposing local noise or access restrictions. Mr. Putnam further explained that, in practice, the FAA deems all restrictions to be unreasonable, so it is difficult to justify regulations aimed at reducing noise.
Can airports survive without the federal grants? Yes, according to Mr. Putnam, and real-world examples include East Hampton, NY and Santa Monica, CA. Since 1982, the city has accepted about $4.7million in AIP grants. That’s an average of $204,347 per year – a modest sum that could be collected through airport user fees.
Who is really benefitting from the airport? On summer weekends, Mile-Hi Skydiving accounts for nearly 70% of operations. Pilot training and touch-and-goes account for another sizeable chunk of traffic. Clearly, the airport users are the ones benefitting from the airport and they should pay their fair share for its maintenance, instead of relying on federal taxpayer subsidies that prohibit local control.
You are being asked to surrender your rights to accommodate aviation interests – don’t allow the soothing promises to lull you into complacency. Remind city officials that the people who live here – both city and county residents who spend their hard-earned dollars in Longmont – are the lifeblood of the community and a high quality of life is worth taking a stand. Would you allow a Longmont business to poison the water or foul the air? No, you would demand regulations to protect the health and well being of its citizens.
The time has come for the city to adopt sensible and mandatory regulations to address community noise concerns. Otherwise, the solution will be to disentangle the airport from the onerous demands of the FAA grant assurances in order to restore local control over airport operations.