And then act like it has one
By FREDERICK WEBER | Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2012 7:15 am
Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
city hasn’t done much to manage or improve Kalispell City Airport over
the last 30 years. The runway and taxiways have had minimal maintenance,
and there have not been any navigation, communication or safety
upgrades during that time.
Pilots using Kalispell City Airport
have had to endure rock chips, prop damage, landing gear and strut
damage, and a host of other inconveniences because this airport has been
lacking in the care necessary to keep it safe and worry free. I can
remember one business leader having his prop ruined. He trained at the
airport, got his pilot’s license, and proudly arrived one day, 30 years
ago, with his brand-new airplane. It seems like it wasn’t 15 minutes
before the aircraft found a gopher hole, and his $30,000 prop hit the
I remember the gentleman’s displeasure; he was quite vocal
that the airport should’ve never had gopher holes where airplanes
operate. I remember someone from the city told him the airport was there
for him to use at his own risk. Well, the man disappeared forever from
I personally have lost props at City Airport. My
solution was to try minimizing operating propeller driven aircraft at
the airport and move to helicopters. But now, even helicopter movement
on the airport seems to be subject to some citizen criticism.
criticism stems mostly from noise. Most pilots do their best to fly
neighborly, in a way that reduces a visual or audible imprint on the
surface. To me, the noise issue is probably the least problematic,
although it certainly can be argued that if you live near the airport
you’re going to hear aircraft.
That fact should be expected;
however there are many more noises in the community that are louder and
more obnoxious than aircraft. Import cars with loud mufflers,
Harley-Davidsons and lawn mowers come to mind, specifically. We do
nothing to mitigate those.
I place helicopters in the same
category as emergency vehicles. When ambulances, fire trucks and
law-enforcement vehicles fly through town with their sirens wailing,
most people reckon they’re going somewhere for the common good, but we
can all acknowledge that they are part of the pulse of living in the
There is a small faction calling for the elimination of helicopter training at City Airport.
of our best helicopter pilots in the state of Montana, for emergency
medical services, law enforcement and public service use have trained at
Kalispell City Airport. Training right here in our community, with its
high-altitude, crazy weather, and rugged terrain, these pilots serve the
needs of our most vulnerable citizens who get lost or injured in this
vast wilderness area we call home.
I don’t know about you, but I
certainly would rather have my rescue pilot familiar with the confined
areas and rugged mountain peaks and instantly changing weather at the
controls rather than a pilot trained in Florida.
I’m not sure
whether the City Council or its airport board has the gumption and the
time to manage this airport from square one. The FAA already provides
rules, regulations and guidelines that will make any airport using them a
safer and better-managed facility.
Can we expect the City Council
to create an entire handbook for ground operations, aircraft movement,
hours of operation, certifying the types of aircraft allowed to use the
airport, as well as 100 things we haven’t thought of yet that may come
Will citizens or pilots have to appear before the City Council
or the airport board in order to get permission to use the airport, or
for permission to close the airport because of an outdoor wedding at a
local residence near the airport?
As the newest member of the
airport board, I am asking the council for the same thing I have asked
at every meeting I’ve attended for the last 30 years: CLARITY.
the council votes to accept FAA funding, I can find comfort with that
choice and with the clarity contained in the rules and regulations of
the Federal Aviation Administration. I fly with them everyday.
I have no problem volunteering my time carrying out the duties under those rules and regulations.
should the city decide with the “status quo,” and leave the airport “as
is,” I would have a hard time imagining how much time it would take to
create a regulatory and enforcement arm of city government. This would
take countless hours of volunteer board time, and distract the council
from running the city just to begin to provide what the FAA rules do
If past experience is indicative of future performance,
it certainly could be argued that nothing positive will come from a
“status quo” decision.
I believe we can do as our neighboring
airports in Ronan and Polson have done in managing the same issues. As
representatives of both airports testified before the council recently,
the taking of FAA funds and lengthening their runway by 600 feet did not
attract a lot of large and noisy aircraft to their community.
the contrary, more members of the Polson and Ronan communities have
invested in small aircraft, built hangars, and used the airport to
further their businesses. Not to mention the increased use for public
safety and law enforcement.
The fact that the FAA is willing to
kick in $16 million for this project should be a fair indicator just how
important infrastructure like this is to the federal government as
Really, the only catch is you have to use the
airport as an “airport.” By even considering that you would turn down
FAA money and letting it go somewhere else, “just to send a message” to
the world, you are not being logical.
Are you willing to lose the
needed local jobs, and ultimately lose an important asset hinging on
“just on principle”? Another airport would certainly use those funds
despite our city “sending the message” with this one instance. You could
even argue any future use of earmarks for other purposes after refusing
the FAA funding by the city would simply be hypocrisy. How could you
take highway, health and human services, or any other federal funds
after rejecting this project based on a nebulous “Tea Party” principle?
Refusing this opportunity will just end up costing the local community in the long run.
is why I urge the City Council to give favorable consideration to
accepting FAA funds, improving the airport with those funds, using the
green field, opening and clearing space south of the existing airport,
and allowing the airport board to mitigate the noise, traffic, and
nuisance issues to the benefit of the citizens in Kalispell.
Weber, of Kalispell, is the newest member of the Airport Board and a 40
year user, pilot, flight instructor and flight safety volunteer.