With longer Naples airport runways comes FAA control
By Larry Schultz Naples
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Many people compliment Naples Municipal Airport for garnering well in excess of $30 million in federal funds for airport improvements, with grants in this tough economic year alone exceeding $6 million. But to those in Old Naples and surrounding areas it may look more like a bargain with the devil.
These grants require that the airport give the Federal Aviation Administration control of aircraft operations. For example, it is the FAA that prohibits the airport from enforcing its nighttime curfew. And, once a runway has been lengthened, it cannot be shortened without FAA approval (which is virtually unheard of). And if the FAA concludes a runway can handle a plane of 100,000 pounds, an airport cannot enforce a lesser weight limit.
Currently, the FAA is forcing a small Lake Tahoe, Nev., airport to accept 75,000-pound jets, stating that the airport’s 50,000-pound limit violates FAA regulations. The FAA says an airport can’t restrict aircraft weight unless the heavier weight would damage runway pavement. If the Tahoe airport refuses to increase its weight limit, the FAA threatens to terminate its grants.
Naples is on the same slippery slope as Tahoe. Tests show Naples primary runways can accept 150,000-pound jets. We have a 75,000-pound weight limit which the airport tells the public it intends to keep. But the airport knows the FAA won’t let that happen if the runway is extended to allow heavier planes to land and take off. It’s only the shorter Naples runways, with a declared length of 5,000 feet, that keep larger jets, like a heavily fueled Boeing 737, out of the airport. The airport is loath to discuss this.
Unfortunately, the community will only realize the impact of the Naples airport runway extensions after the fact, when they are permanently in place. When heavier jets seek to use the extended runways, the FAA will tell us that we must accept them, together with their noise and pollution. Any deal that gives the FAA greater control over our community is a bad deal.
But the Naples Airport Authority, which controls the airport, is happy to expand and give the FAA control over both the longer runways and the larger jets that will use them. The airport’s executive director has confirmed that if the runways are extended he expects that the 75,000-pound weight limit will be raised to 100,000 pounds or more. And it is a certainty that the FAA will back him up.
Bear in mind, it is the Airport Authority pushing for the extension and the bigger jets, not the FAA. The FAA has never questioned that the airport is fine as it is, and has an exemplary safety record. And if the airport were to continue its historical role in the community as a local municipal airport, there would be no extensions and no bigger jets, and the FAA would not complain.
It is in just the past year or so that the current members of the NAA have decided to dramatically change the course of the airport. They are breaking the NAA’s 40-year commitment to operate a small airport, compatible with our community and in compliance with our existing zoning laws.
So, the NAA now seeks to extend the airport runways to their maximum length. A paved runway of 6,600 feet, with 5,800 feet for takeoff, will accommodate larger and heavier jets to fly over Old Naples and Fifth Avenue South as low as 800 feet.
There is also an economic incentive for the airport to expand. If the airport extends the runway and gets commercial service, it will get an annual FAA grant of $1 million.
The irony in the NAA’s airport expansion and giving the FAA greater control is that the city of Naples owns the airport. The NAA is our tenant. We lease it to them for $1 a year. Our City Council appoints the five NAA board members. And yet the NAA now says that because it is operating under FAA rules, the City Council can’t stop the airport from expanding, even though the city zoning ordinance, to which the NAA consented over a decade ago, says the airport can’t extend the runways beyond 5,000 feet.
The Naples City Council will soon be voting on the runway extension, and it should vote a resounding no. The 75,000-pound limit should be made absolute and permanent. The NAA should commit to the city that it will abide by the zoning laws, limiting the runway to its current 5,000 feet.
Extending the runways for larger, heavier commercial jets under the control of the FAA is not good for Naples.
Schultz has been active in addressing matters relating to the Naples Municipal Airport. He has served as a member of the airport Technical Advisory Committee and the airport Noise Compatibility Committee.
© 2010 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online
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