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"FAA wants no more crops at airport"



Saturday, November 30, 2013

FAA wants no more crops at airport 
By CHUCK CLEMENT
The Madison (IN) Daily Leader


 If federal officials have their way, Madison's airport could lose a
significant amount of its annual revenue and have additional operating
expenses.
    
 Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration want to reduce the risk
to aircraft caused by wildlife by eliminating the city's practice of renting
out land to agricultural producers to grow grain crops.

 According to Morris Riggin, manager at Madison Municipal Airport, FAA
officials have developed greater concerns about the threat from wildlife to
aircraft landing and taking off from airstrips since the Flight 1549
accident in 2009.

 Flight 1549, a passenger flight from New York City to Seattle, Wash., had
its airliner damaged by multiple Canada geese minutes after the jet lifted
off from LaGuardia Airport. The Airbus A320 airliner landed in the Hudson
River and the passengers and crew were saved without fatalities and five
reported injuries.

 "The FAA doesn't want us to farm the land at the airport because it could
be a waterfowl attractant," Riggin said.

 The airport property currently includes about 155 crop acres located
southwest, east and northwest of its paved runway. The fields were typically
rented to local farmers and planted in recent years with corn and soybeans.

 A post-accident investigation performed on Flight 1549 determined that bird
remains were found in both turbine engines of the aircraft, causing engine
failure. To reduce the threat from wildlife, the FAA proposed that the
Madison airport should convert the cropland to grassland.

 FAA officials also want Madison to eliminate the wetlands located within
the airport's boundaries.

 Madison officials received the latest communication from the FAA in early
November.

 "(The USDA's Fish & Wildlife Service) recommended that to reduce wildlife
attractants on the airport, certain wetlands be removed, along with a change
from crop production to warm seasonal grasses," said the letter from Laurie
J. Suttmeier, an FAA manager in Bismarck, N.D.

 Madison officials have pointed out to the FAA that the ag land rentals
provided 91 percent of the rental revenue gained through the land rentals
and hangar leases. The city airport currently takes in about $39,000 in ag
land rent and $3,700 in hangar land rents annually.

 The overall annual budget for the Madison airport totals about $103,000.
Riggin said that the FAA could make exceptions for economic hardship.

 "You take away 38 percent of anybody's budget and that's a hardship," he
said.

 In addition to losing revenue, if the city converts to grass, FAA rules
state that the grass must remain between 6 to 12 inches in height. Riggin
estimated that if the city needs to mow that amount of grass about three
times each summer, the expense will amount to about $48,000.

 By converting to grass, Riggin estimates that the city will need to
increase its funding from the current $60,400 to about $147,500.

 According to Riggin, city officials will propose that the FAA allow Madison
to rent out the land for growing alfalfa, allowing the city to continue to
receive ag revenue from the property. Riggin estimated that in converting to
alfalfa, the city's revenue would probably decrease by about $3,000.

 "I'd say that's a fairly good compromise," Riggin said.

 The FAA letter also stated, "Please understand if the City continues to
farm crops as intended, there will be a delay in completing the
(environmental assessment) and thus in implementing your airport improvement
project."

 City officials want to construct a new parallel taxiway and enlarge the
airport's apron during the next several years. The FAA currently provides 90
percent of the funding for that type of construction work. The Madison
construction projects would receive about $3.6 million in federal funding.

 The FAA's proposal to eliminate the wetlands in and around the city airport
will need the approval of the USFWS.

 The current budget sequester under way in the federal government further
complicates FAA funding. The sequester's funding cuts have interrupted the
FAA's financial support, and even larger budget cuts are threatened in the
coming months.

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