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?
CPA VP Region 4
San Diego Area Aviation Council