City ought to keep airport

And then act like it has one

By FREDERICK WEBER | Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2012 7:15 am
Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
The city hasn’t done much to manage or improve Kalispell City Airport over the last 30 years. The runway and taxiways have had minimal maintenance, and there have not been any navigation, communication or safety upgrades during that time.

Pilots using Kalispell City Airport have had to endure rock chips, prop damage, landing gear and strut damage, and a host of other inconveniences because this airport has been lacking in the care necessary to keep it safe and worry free. I can remember one business leader having his prop ruined. He trained at the airport, got his pilot’s license, and proudly arrived one day, 30 years ago, with his brand-new airplane. It seems like it wasn’t 15 minutes before the aircraft found a gopher hole, and his $30,000 prop hit the ground.

I remember the gentleman’s displeasure; he was quite vocal that the airport should’ve never had gopher holes where airplanes operate. I remember someone from the city told him the airport was there for him to use at his own risk. Well, the man disappeared forever from City Airport.
I personally have lost props at City Airport. My solution was to try minimizing operating propeller driven aircraft at the airport and move to helicopters. But now, even helicopter movement on the airport seems to be subject to some citizen criticism.
Helicopter criticism stems mostly from noise. Most pilots do their best to fly neighborly, in a way that reduces a visual or audible imprint on the surface. To me, the noise issue is probably the least problematic, although it certainly can be argued that if you live near the airport you’re going to hear aircraft.

That fact should be expected; however there are many more noises in the community that are louder and more obnoxious than aircraft. Import cars with loud mufflers, Harley-Davidsons and lawn mowers come to mind, specifically. We do nothing to mitigate those.
I place helicopters in the same category as emergency vehicles. When ambulances, fire trucks and law-enforcement vehicles fly through town with their sirens wailing, most people reckon they’re going somewhere for the common good, but we can all acknowledge that they are part of the pulse of living in the city.

There is a small faction calling for the elimination of helicopter training at City Airport.
Many of our best helicopter pilots in the state of Montana, for emergency medical services, law enforcement and public service use have trained at Kalispell City Airport. Training right here in our community, with its high-altitude, crazy weather, and rugged terrain, these pilots serve the needs of our most vulnerable citizens who get lost or injured in this vast wilderness area we call home.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly would rather have my rescue pilot familiar with the confined areas and rugged mountain peaks and instantly changing weather at the controls rather than a pilot trained in Florida.

I’m not sure whether the City Council or its airport board has the gumption and the time to manage this airport from square one. The FAA already provides rules, regulations and guidelines that will make any airport using them a safer and better-managed facility.
Can we expect the City Council to create an entire handbook for ground operations, aircraft movement, hours of operation, certifying the types of aircraft allowed to use the airport, as well as 100 things we haven’t thought of yet that may come up?
Will citizens or pilots have to appear before the City Council or the airport board in order to get permission to use the airport, or for permission to close the airport because of an outdoor wedding at a local residence near the airport?
As the newest member of the airport board, I am asking the council for the same thing I have asked at every meeting I’ve attended for the last 30 years: CLARITY.
If the council votes to accept FAA funding, I can find comfort with that choice and with the clarity contained in the rules and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration. I fly with them everyday.
I have no problem volunteering my time carrying out the duties under those rules and regulations.
However, should the city decide with the “status quo,” and leave the airport “as is,” I would have a hard time imagining how much time it would take to create a regulatory and enforcement arm of city government. This would take countless hours of volunteer board time, and distract the council from running the city just to begin to provide what the FAA rules do already.

If past experience is indicative of future performance, it certainly could be argued that nothing positive will come from a “status quo” decision.
I believe we can do as our neighboring airports in Ronan and Polson have done in managing the same issues. As representatives of both airports testified before the council recently, the taking of FAA funds and lengthening their runway by 600 feet did not attract a lot of large and noisy aircraft to their community.

On the contrary, more members of the Polson and Ronan communities have invested in small aircraft, built hangars, and used the airport to further their businesses. Not to mention the increased use for public safety and law enforcement.
The fact that the FAA is willing to kick in $16 million for this project should be a fair indicator just how important infrastructure like this is to the federal government as national policy.

Really, the only catch is you have to use the airport as an “airport.” By even considering that you would turn down FAA money and letting it go somewhere else, “just to send a message” to the world, you are not being logical.
Are you willing to lose the needed local jobs, and ultimately lose an important asset hinging on “just on principle”? Another airport would certainly use those funds despite our city “sending the message” with this one instance. You could even argue any future use of earmarks for other purposes after refusing the FAA funding by the city would simply be hypocrisy. How could you take highway, health and human services, or any other federal funds after rejecting this project based on a nebulous “Tea Party” principle?

Refusing this opportunity will just end up costing the local community in the long run.
That is why I urge the City Council to give favorable consideration to accepting FAA funds, improving the airport with those funds, using the green field, opening and clearing space south of the existing airport, and allowing the airport board to mitigate the noise, traffic, and nuisance issues to the benefit of the citizens in Kalispell.
Frederick Weber, of Kalispell, is the newest member of the Airport Board and a 40 year user, pilot, flight instructor and flight safety volunteer.


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