Fear of airport master plan misplaced

Record-Courier readers have now heard from two critics of the airport master planning process. It is time for a little balance in this discussion.

I am a glider pilot, instructor, and partner in a startup soaring business called Soaring NV that is starting up at Minden airport. I'm a resident here, and in addition to soaring I enjoy here I also fly a small plane that I have hangared at the airport. I'm on the board of the Minden Airport Association, chairman of the Airport Master Plan Working Group, and a regional director for the Soaring Society of America. I moved to Minden for the soaring, as it's the best in the world.

Anyone reading of my associations and interests should appreciate that I cherish the small-town nature of our airport and our Valley. In a perfect world, I would have the airport and the Valley remain just as they are. Better yet, I would have them remain as they were 15 years ago, before the population grew so dramatically.

As we all learn early in life, the world does not remain static. The population of our Valley is an excellent case in point: just look at the number of homes built in the past decade. Interestingly enough, traffic counts at our airport have lagged far behind population growth - a telling point that goes to the heart of the argument resisting change at the airport.

The small group that is most vociferous in opposing the work of the airport master plan invokes visions of our skies darkening with jets. Images are floated of jet traffic growing because of the new class of light jet, or in response to new hangars, or direction from the FAA for jets to come here so as to avoid busier airports. The vision is disingenuous at best and misleading at worst.

The General Accounting Office study looking at the new light jets predicts a total of 6,000 jets worldwide in 10 years, and believes many will replace existing general aviation aircraft. Six-thousand aircraft worldwide does not translate into huge growth in Minden, even if they are distributed without regard for demand.

But traffic at an airport is driven by demand. When I climb in my Cessna I am going somewhere - not waiting for the FAA to tell me I must land in Bishop or Carson City. Air traffic coming to Minden is doing so for a reason (skiing, soaring, family, business, etc.). Some will come to practice landings and takeoffs - that is a legitimate use of an airport. But they are not coming here because there is nowhere else to land. And frankly, the number of retirees and minimal industry in this Valley do not represent large commercial demand for air traffic.

In fact there are not a lot reasons for flying to Minden. I talked to a corporate pilot yesterday who brought two businessmen to visit their company. Starbucks' jet took off around 6:15. The rest of the traffic was the Civil Air Patrol, gliders, or local sport aviation, and that is the reality of Minden-Tahoe Airport.

There is talk that new hangar construction will bring in many jets. That is not so if there is no business for those jets here. Jets don't go sleep in a hangar because it is available, they go because their operator has a reason to visit that airport. In fact there are large hangars on our airport right now that are empty because the demand is for small hangars. Even the much-invoked PiƱon Aero development is starting out small, and if the demand is not forthcoming it will remain small.

Homeowners north of the airport are occasionally troubled by the noise of departing aircraft. A weight ordinance put in place several years ago to curtail this nuisance might not pass muster if it is taken before a judge, something that could happen if it is left in place. So the Board of County Commissioners is looking for alternatives, and based on my own reading of the situation, would welcome well-reasoned suggestions for a workable solution to minimize noise impact and preserve the valley's rural nature.

Meanwhile, the airport has contracted with a company to draft a master plan. At the last public meeting of the master plan's working group the same small group that has been vociferous in past spoke long and eloquently against proposed development. I hope people who care about the airport (and soaring) will take a good look at what is being proposed by the planners.

It will preserve and promote the world class soaring that has existed here since the '50s without being a noise burden to airport neighbors. Granted, it will not happen overnight. But it will happen unless a small band of critics is successful in derailing it with scare tactics built on questionable premises. The alternative is to do nothing to promote soaring, and watch its continued decline.

At least one county official is suggesting that the planning process be enlarged to include more non-pilots living in the neighborhood and more opportunity for community input. I welcome this and hope neighbors who are concerned about airport development will step forward to participate. I am confident that what is being proposed by the master plan contractor is not an example of unnecessary development, that it will not lead to our skies being darkened with jets, and will not lead to untrammeled airport growth. It will, however, be a boon to soaring and small aircraft. Don't take my word for it - come participate in the process and judge for yourself.

-- Fred LaSor is chairman of the Airport Master Plan Working Group.


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