The Silver Lining of a GA airport’s closure may be a preventative study of other endangered facilities

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Silver Bay Airport closes

Silver Bay considers options for airport

Airport’s traffic levels drop below AIP eligibility

Runway falls below safety minimum-CLOSURE

497 airports on endangered list- INDUSTRY PREVENTATIVE ACTION?

Congress passed the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) to compel the FAA to inventory the airports in the United States, but even that effort to be proactive still lets these aviation assets to die.

A shown in the cover graphic, the FAA issued a NOTAM acknowledging the closure of the Silver Bay Municipal Airport (BFW) due to a runway (3,200’ long X 975’ wide, asphalt, 07/25)  so deteriorated that it was below safety standards. It was home to only 7 aircraft; so, its system impact was not great. As with many regions, the availability of hangars is not great. The two closest airports are Grand Marais and Two Harbors (~56 and ~ 28 miles) [see map].

[the white boxes mark the locations of the closest airfields]

BFW was built in 1965, but in recent years its activity levels have dropped below AIP funding eligibility levels. As recently as last fall, the Minnesota Department of Transportation had warned the City of its safety concerns over the asphalt was subject to increasing cracking and thus raising the likelihood of an accident. The municipal ownership has been considering closure for a number of years; so, it was not inclined to spend the $1million that reconstruction would cost and even a study to convert to grass or gravel would be expensive. Even if there was some way to get state or federal help, the City is reluctant to be responsible for 20 years of keeping BFW open, A self-inflicted death, due to safety deficiencies, made the best sense to the City Council and Mayor.

The NPIAS establishes FIVE categories of GA airports—national, regional, local, basic and unclassified airports (497 on the 2014 study). Silver Bay Municipal sell into that lowest classification. As a matter of public policy, it is hard to make a case that BFW should be saved; the investment required should not burden the city’s taxpayers and it is unlikely that some private party would invest in or get municipal approval for renovating this sleepy airfield. That said, somewhere among the 497 Unclassified Airports it is possible that there is an airport with local value, but subject to neglect.

ASSET (p.22) noted:

GENERAL AVIATION AIRPORTS NOT CLASSIFIED There are 497 airports (including 475 airports, 7 heliports, and 15 seaplane bases) that did not fit into one of the four new categories. Most of these airports have been in the NPIAS for decades and may have seen an erosion of based aircraft and activity (because of population and economic shifts or recession) or may have no based aircraft.

It would appear appropriate that faa, NASAO, AOPA, AAAE, NATA and others FORM A COALITION to study these other airports. Unlike the malevolence of the sponsors at Santa Monica Airport and Meigs Field, there may be sponsors that would be willing to reinvigorate their GA airport.  The size of these investments by cities does not usually warrant top level aviation managers. Without malice, the municipal sponsors’ ignorance on the below subjects may contribute to the “suicide” of runways:

  • Basic safety knowledge,
  • Selection of management, FBOs, vendors, etc.,
  • Attracting and retaining of tenants for long term use of and revenue for the airport,
  • The definition of a preventative maintenance and how an effective schedule can reduce expenses,

The collective wisdom of this group might move some of these assets from the endangered list to the FAA’s BASIC and beyond. Identification of the airports to be “remediated” might be a great subject for some graduate student’s thesis for an airport management degree.

The collective loss of one or two unclassified airports may not have systemwide consequences. These impending disasters seem to occur on a random and sudden basis. The Team for Endangered of Airport Remediation might serve as a systematic method to avoid an unexpected implosion of these scarce aviation resources.

Shed a TEAR for GA Airports?



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