It has recently come to my attention that a small, albeit vocal, minority of our community would argue that our Minden-Tahoe Airport should be closed. I suppose they have their reasons, but such a proposal would be ill-conceived and a grave set back for Douglas County. Why?
The county has challenges ahead. It has a problem with drugs, gangs, and, to some extent, people at the proverbial "bottom of the pyramid" who have trouble simply coping with their lives. There is also the very real possibility of a recession in these United States fueled by many economic factors. In juxtaposition thereto is the airport. The airport is frequented by people who spend money...lots of it.
The people that frequent the airport are usually self sufficient economically so that they pursue hobbies such as soaring or building their own experimental aircraft or learning how to fly. These are the kinds of people that the county would want to be a part of our community. The airport constitutes a site of personal improvement and advancement. The thought of closing it is abhorrent to any perspective that the county should provide a place for people who are self-actualized, self-motivated, and play by strict rules.
Well, then should the airport allow or perhaps even encourage business jets to use its facilities? Douglas County should be so lucky as to have business jet owners and operators choose our airport as a stopover or destination.
Why? First, those aircraft are piloted by the safest pilots in the sky often with decades of experience in the airlines or the military. Second, those aircraft, contrary to popular lay opinion, are actually more quiet than other aircraft by engineering design but also because their climb rate is 4x to 10x higher than the climb rate of other general aviation aircraft. The impact of such a high climb rate is that high end business jet aircraft are gone from our Valley on departure much faster than most other aircraft. This has the effect of reducing the noise footprint...not increasing it. Third, the owners and operators of business jets spend lots of money in our community. They purchase fuel and maintenance that costs thousands of dollars per visit. They rent automobiles.
They frequent our restaurants, and they stay in our hotel rooms. The economic impact on jobs and community well-being from business usage of the airport is immense.
So, to the extent that business jet usage is technically and economically beneficial, artificial weight limits for landing aircraft simply neither comport with logic nor engineering. That is, if the runway will safely support an aircraft that weighs, say, 100,000 lbs, it should be permitted to land. Noise abatement is a consideration (more on that later), but the physics of the runway is what should solely determine weight limits. Weight limits only exist in the domain of the civil engineering of the asphalt.
On a topic related to the airport, fire in the Carson Valley and the surrounding mountains is a reality every July and August. Sometimes the fires are caused by humans acting imprudently or illegally, but sometimes the fires are caused by Mother Nature....i.e. lightning. In either case, every year our Valley is covered in a layer of smoke from time to time. I, for one, want those fire retardant bombers and helicopters in this valley as close as possible to my home as can be managed. The threat of fire is very real, and it is likely that all of our property values are higher with those bombers, helicopters, and support equipment local to our community.
Our community is growing. Ours is not the first community in the U.S. to be faced with competing interests in the face of growth ... open space, clean air, clean water, noise abatement, etc. etc. With a focus on the airport the best way to accommodate manifestly improved safety and noise abatement is a control tower for our Douglas County Airport. This is the way that community growth and airport operation is managed to achieve harmony. A tower controls aircraft on the ground so that runway incursions do not occur. It is simply a matter of time before someone dies due to aircraft and/or ground vehicles colliding at the intersection of the two runways. It is just a matter time before a death occurs due to a straight - in landing. At some point self-policing by airport users does not work, and we are at that point. A tower controls the flow of aircraft on the ground and in the air. It is precisely the control of flight in the vicinity of the airport that not only manifestly improves safety but radically enhances noise abatement. There is no reason to over fly densely populated subdivisions, and a tower will make that a reality. A Douglas County tower is the natural course in the growth of our airport and the surrounding community, and any other proposal is not consistent with maximizing the utility of our community to all its constituents. Incidentally, every time there is fire that is being fought in the Valley or the mountains, a tower is in operation at the Douglas County airport. Further, the populated areas of Palo Alto, San Carlos, and Livermore are just three examples of densely populated areas that manage safety and control noise pollution by use of a tower. It is simply untrue that the county cannot afford a tower. And, those that might argue that we do not want the FAA controlling our ground and skies are neither arguing for enhanced airport safety nor noise abatement.
The airport is a shining jewel in the list of positives of what makes Douglas County a great place to live. A suggestion to close it is not only illogical but misbegotten and stillborn.
Howard Charney is a Genoa resident.