Avoiding Safety & Economic Conflicts
These articles about a Colorado and a California airport illustrate these public facilities’ intersection between their economic development power, and their safety functions. With good planning and comprehension of the FAA’s regulatory requirements, the balance between these potentially conflicting interests can be maintained. Collectively, the tale of these two cities shows the difficulty which is created by the tension of less attention to the FARs.
San Luis Valley Regional Airport (ALS) holds a Part 139 certificate, an absolute requirement for air service by an air carrier. It’s NOT an economic rule, but constitutes important SAFETY standards to protect passengers flying to this economic engine for this region of Colorado.
Dustin Allinger, the new manager, had to tell the members of his Airport Board of Control that the FAA had found ALS not in compliance with those regulations (the article does not specify the exact violations). It is stated that the FAA “threatened” to fine the airport unless the Part 139 certificate is surrendered immediately. [The FAA has the power to suspend or even revoke that “ticket.”] The Board members recognized the difficulty of paying but want to pay the penalties. Showing the tension between safety and economic development, “they also don’t want to limit potential growth that the certificate allows.”
It would appear that the San Luis Valley Regional Airport is not willing to offer to suspend its Part 139 certificate pending the remediation of the unspecified deficiencies. Yes, no commercial flights may operate during the remediation (and shouldn’t for a number of reasons, including insurance liability), but by surrendering, ALS may demonstrate its disposition to comply with all of the relevant FARs voluntarily. Further, the Board may explain that using the potential civil penalty on the correction is the win/win result which the FAA’s new compliance philosophy seeks.
Torrance’s Zamperini Field (KTOA) owner/operator faces a different conflict. There, the City Council faces the dilemma of a proposed encroachment by a Lexus dealership vehicle storage lot into the runway protection zone (RPZ) at the airport.
The local pilot community sought an appeal a Planning Commission decision that approved the storage lot in the RPZ, despite state guidelines that the entire area should be kept free of objects in case of emergency landings. Fortunately, the California Office of Aviation Planning intervened saying, aptly that “[a]pproval of this project presents a potential hazard to people and property on the ground and exposes the city to greater liability from aircraft accidents.”
RPZs are a major airport safety goal of the FAA. It has issued an Advisory Circular offering advice on how to try to minimize the risks associated with preexisting buildings in these zones. The concept of introducing objects into RPZs is antithetical to safety. If KTOA decides to prefer collateral economic development, there are risks involved. As with San Luis Airport, it could face civil penalties. With such offensive use of the perimeter, its eligibility and preference for AIP funding would assuredly be harmed. While the added sales of Lexus cars could add to Torrance’s economy in the short term, the long term risk of the impact of a crash in this car dealership developed property could be multiples of the automobile revenue. Having consciously decided against aviation safety, the insurance carrier may find exceptions in the policy. If so, any damages might come directly from the city’s coffers.
Both cities would be better served if they managed the airports’ safety proactively.
The Torrance Airport is named after a great American aviation WWII hero, Olympian and inspirational human being, Louis Zamperini. If you haven’t read the incredible biography of his life, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, you must (not just should)!