Airport Encroachment is a Problem Everywhere

Opinion Why airport manager was fired

“Hell Bent For Election” describes many politicians as election day looms, but city planners could likewise be described as Hell Bent for Tax Revenues as they rush to approve growth projects and developers as Hell Bent for Profits as they push for zoning changes to build their developments as densely as allowed. That arm-in-arm relationship is considered a win-win for city planners and for developers in cahoots, but each with his own self-interest in mind.

What that means for many airports located close to municipalities is encroachment of construction too dense for safety, if city planners and developers get their way. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) convened a task force years ago armed with National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data of airplane crashes in the vicinity of airports. Using density of crash data as a guide, six impact zones were identified, scaled to the type of airport, length of runway, etc., to protect pilots, passengers and those on the ground from undue harm should an aircraft have problems and need to land, now. A number of states have incorporated these zones into airport land-use planning handbooks.

Then Coeur d’Alene Airport Manager Greg Delavan called to inform me about a Kootenai Area Planning Reconciliation Workshop for Elected Officials at the Kroc Center (which was held on Sept. 3) regarding the CdA Airport Master Plan, which incorporates the above-described six impact zones and the City of Hayden’s frustrated plans to expand. In attendance were City of Hayden Community and Economic Development Director Connie Krueger, the three Kootenai County commissioners, plus representatives from the cities of Hayden, Coeur d’Alene, Rathdrum, the Lakes Highway District, and in the audience, Delavan,

Airport Advisory Board Chair John Adams and KMPO Executive Director Glenn Miles. The forum was facilitated by an independent contractor, Marsha Bracke.

According to Krueger, who gave the main presentation, the City of Hayden’s plans to expand are being hamstrung by the airport’s plans for future expansion and by the six impact zones which were incorporated in the most recent iteration of the Airport Master Plan to safeguard specific approach segments of land for safety reasons. She particularly blamed the six impact zones for the bottleneck of development approvals that were frustrating her plans. She admitted getting emotional when she talked about the six impact zones.

KMPO’s Miles then got up and gave a similar rant against those safety zones.

When I went to the bathroom during intermission, the talk was all about the evils of the six impact zones and the harm that was being done because of the holdup in plans caused by them.

By the time Delavan got up to field questions, the mood of the place was hostile, all feeling the pain of poor Hayden and its hurdles to growth.

Except for Delavan, Adams and myself, I knew of no other pilots in the room, yet all these non-pilots seemed to be similarly emotional about the restrictions to their beloved development. As the sole survivor of a fatal airplane accident, I get emotional about greedy city planners and developers who put pilots, passengers and others on the ground at needless risk.

Back in 2008, I was on the board of the Coeur d’Alene Airport Association when the board and I took it upon ourselves to participate in the hearings being held by the Kootenai County Planning and Zoning Commission, which was compiling information for its new Kootenai County Comprehensive Plan. Immediately I noticed that the Coeur d’Alene Airport was not even mentioned in the Transportation Section, which seemed to have been largely written by KMPO.

So, referencing Spokane County’s Comprehensive Plan, I built an airport model for Kootenai County’s Transportation Section appropriate for Kootenai County’s lone airport and included the FAA’s six impact zones, which I drew by hand and to scale on a map of Coeur d’Alene Airport.

After the Kootenai Comp Plan was finalized, Delavan, along with the Coeur d’Alene Airport Advisory Board, incorporated these six impact zones into the new Coeur d’Alene Airport Master Plan.

Many people do not know that some national developers (not necessarily those in Kootenai County) make it part of their business plan to buy cheap land around airports, lobby for city planners to change the zoning by promising tax revenues, build dense housing, sell it off quickly before the buyers realize they are under the approach or takeoff zones, then move on to greener pastures.

The airport, its users and the people of the region who realize benefits from the airport (without realizing it) take the hit when complaints from these new upset home owners start rolling in. Timid politicians then try to placate these homeowners by putting restrictions on the use of the airport, noise abatements, closing the airport to takeoffs and landings between certain hours, and restricting future growth of the airport that would benefit the community as a whole.

When the FAA congealed these six impact zones, it based its findings on statistical data populated with dots showing crash locations relative to each runway. In the interests of reality, rarely are crashes of aircraft truly represented by dots where the aircraft actually spins straight in; rather they are longish dashes representing an aircraft trying to bleed off speed and energy in a more horizontal direction. In these cases building density matters.

Greg Delavan was attempting to put in place a future for Coeur d’Alene Airport/Pappy Boyington Field in as safe a manner as possible and in my opinion, because it became an impediment to tax revenues and developer profits, he was fired.

Mike Satren is a local pilot and writer.


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