Safer Airports? ? San Diego County?s MYF and OKB

No title There seems to be a great effort to improve airport safety this year ? safety in the terms of more clear zones around and at the ends of runways. The owner/operators of both Oceanside Airport (OKB)and of Montgomery Field (MYF) have plans that will bring these airports into compliance with the current standards in the FAA?s Advisory Circular for airport design standards (AC 150/5300-13). (This is available on the FAA website, but is a large file, more than 9 MB, and takes more than an hour to download if you have a dialup connection). Ostensibly, the changes are all being done to improve airport safety to and at the ends of runways. What is being done at OKB, a federally funded single runway field situated in a residential and light industrial neighborhood in northern San Diego County, is to remove approximately half the airport?s 100 tiedowns because they do not meet the lateral displacement requirements from the runway centerline. There was a better way to handle this ?assuming that it was necessary. Two years ago, the City acquired, with federal funds, 14 acres of adjacent land that was supposedly to be used for the placement of tie-downs. As of now, nothing has been done, and the deed to the land specifies that, if the City fails to develop it in accordance with the Master Plan, the parcel would revert to its former owner. The time period for taking action is getting critical. (The loss of 50 OKB spaces has occurred as 120 light GA aircraft were displaced from McClellan-Palomar Airport, in Carlsbad, the closest airport.)

At MYF, the City of San Diego has announced plans to remove 50 tiedowns and several old hangars at the end of runway 23. Once again, the plans are ostensibly driven by the need to comply with FAA standards for a Runway Protection Zone (RPZ). When asked about this, the FAA says that the City made the decision in the name of safety. Unfortunately, neither the FAA nor the City has been open to requests for continuation of the existing waivers. Also, the fact that this runway is infrequently utilized (supposedly seeing only 4% of the airport operations) and has not been a part of any accidents or incidents makes one wonder “what is the problem”. Nevertheless, to comply with the requirements for the R/W 23?s RPZ, the airport is planning to create the obstacle-free zone that is called for by the FAA?s Advisory Circular.

The situations explored here might make you wonder as to ?HOW SAFE IS SAFE ENOUGH?? To the best of my knowledge, neither of the aforementioned airports has experienced an accident or incident as a result of their present airport/runway land usage. From time-to-time, the FAA has, at the request of the airport owner/operator granted a waiver of an airport?s land use when the operator has been able to show that it was reasonably justified.

To know more about the waiver possibility, early this month, I called the FAA?s Western-Pacific Airport Division and spoke with the supervisor of the Standards Section. We initially arranged for a meeting as soon as the local specialist was available. Surprisingly, when I spoke with the specialist, he asked that we put in writing what we wanted to discuss. After some further thought, I called back to assure him all we wanted was to talk and learn. The specialist then stated that neither he nor his supervisor would meet with us because they only work with the airport operators, whom they consider their ?clients.? Apparently, airport users do not fall into that category and if we want anything from this section of the FAA we must have the cooperation of the airport operators and work through them. We would, it seems, have to convince the airport owners of whatever we want without getting the benefit of the FAA?s knowledge.

All of this raises the question as to what we, the airports, and the FAA, are doing to support aviation at our airports; i.e., aviation support versus providing maximum safety at an airport. There is no question that safety is the primary objective of the general aviation community, the airport operators and the FAA. Nevertheless, reasonable minds will differ as to the appropriate level of safety in any given location and under any given circumstance. In addition, there is no doubt that marginal safety considerations have been, and will continue to be, raised as justification for unpopular reductions in airport services. By excluding airport users from the discussion and by treating the airport sponsors as ?clients of the FAA,? there can be no ?checks and balances? within the process and airport operators may feel free to justify serving local political goals at the expense of the national airport system in the name of safety. HOW SAFE IS SAFE ENOUGH? Must we remove facilities and services from our airports in order to be safe enough?

Jack Kenton
CPA VP Region 4
Ron Cozad
San Diego Area Aviation Council