Thursday, June 7, 2007
Crash resurrects airport `buffer zone’ talk
By Mark Petix
The Inland Valley (CA) Daily Bulletin
UPLAND – Mike Lompart isn’t going to say I told you so, but … The retired airline pilot said people have argued for years against development they say is too close to Cable Airport. The Alta Loma man said Monday’s crash of a Piper Seneca twin-engine plane into three houses about three blocks east of Cable clearly demonstrates the importance of having an airport buffer zone. “Cable for years has been trying to get cooperation for a buffer,” he said, “and unfortunately this is what happens when foresight is not used.”
It’s too soon to say whether the crash that left a flight instructor and two student pilots with minor to moderate injuries will give officials pause when considering development near small airports such as Cable and Chino.
But airport advocates say the lure of development money has replaced common sense.
Lompart made that point clear last August, when four members of the Upland City Council unanimously approved a 355-unit housing development southwest of Cable.
“That is a hazardous area with a major noise problem,” Lompart said at the meeting where the development was approved.
“When does it stop? We can’t have just houses.”
When the council approved the development, Upland Mayor John Pomierski called the project “a great opportunity for start-up homes for people in this city.”
City Councilman Ken Willis said Wednesday he is confident the development is in a safe spot.
He said he spent one Sunday walking the land and watching the planes taking off from Cable.
“I got pretty concerned about it,” he said. “I brought my binoculars and a thermos of lemonade. What I observed is the planes don’t fly over the proposed construction area.”
Instead, he said, they fly over the rock quarry and west toward Claremont.
He said he has many questions about Monday’s crash. While the owner of the flight school that supplied the ill-fated Piper said it appears the crash may be a result of pilot error, Willis said he wants city staff to make sure all rules and regulations were followed.
“We want to find out if any procedure was overlooked or ignored,” he said.
Willis said development near Cable will also be a key factor when the city revises its general plan.
“A lot of questions need to be addressed about the airport,” he said.
He said the city has gotten very strict about development near Cable since the 1970s, when the homes where Monday’s crash occurred were built.
Despite the neighborhood’s proximity to the airport, he said many years have passed without incident – until Monday.
“I think we were very lucky to the extent it was the time of day residents weren’t home and no one was killed,” he said. “We were especially lucky there was not a fire.”
Buffer zones around airports are a hot-button issue for airplane advocates, said Kathleen Vasconcelos, spokeswoman for the Maryland-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
She said the encroachment of development upon airports is the group’s top concern.
“Residential development and airports are not compatible,” she said.
She said development is believed to be a primary reason an average of two airports close every month nationwide.
Sometime in the next year or so, Rialto Municipal Airport will join that list, making way for a 1,500-acre redevelopment project.
Monday’s crash was something of a statistical rarity. An FAA study of general aviation aircraft found most crashes occur within 1,500 feet of the end of a runway.
The Piper Seneca was approaching Cable from the east when it crashed.
When a Cessna turbo-jet crashed June 17, the aircraft landed about 200 yards west of Cable’s runway, about 200 feet from the edge of a business park.
The pilot, Parviz Razavian, his 20-year-old daughter, Shirin, and wife, Farideh, were critically injured.
Farideh Razavian later died from severe burns received in the crash.
The industrial and business parks near the east and west ends of Cable’s landing area are considered a relatively low-density alternative development in areas where accidents are most likely to occur.
Jeff Baker, president of Alliance International Aviation flight school at Chino Airport, said a crash involving a flight school is also a rarity.
He said local flight schools are safe, but the media has zero tolerance for plane crashes.
“Cars drive off the road into people’s houses all the time,” he said. “It usually doesn’t make headlines.”
He said people are overly concerned about plane crashes.
“People tend to worry about the sky falling in on them,” he said. “But really, if you look at the statistics, it’s completely not true.”
But Lompart remembers the open land that once stretched east of the airport where Monday’s plane crash occurred.
If those homes weren’t built, he said, “it wouldn’t have happened.”