Opinion

Airport dispute blown out of proportion

I’d like to commend editor Leslie Brown for her even-handed coverage of the controversy at the Island’s airport (“Stormy weather hits Vashon’s quiet airport,” June 24).

In my view, though, the “controversy” that prompted Brown’s story has been blown way out of proportion, fanned by a small contingent of airport users who insist on putting their self-interest ahead of the public interest.

The airport is an important community asset, and Islanders deserve to know what is happening there.

As an airport commissioner, I was elected by the people of Vashon to represent the public’s interest in the airport. My primary responsibilities are to keep the airport in good standing and meet the goals of the community. Good standing means the airport is safe to use, is considerate to its neighbors and is a resource for the good of Vashon.

Vashon Municipal Airport belongs to the people of Vashon, who are the primary stakeholders here.

The 44 pilots who rent hangar and tie down space on the field are also stakeholders and should be treated fairly. I believe the users of the airport are treated fairly, and for the most part the daily operation of the airport runs smoothly with few complaints. When the airport rules and regulations aren’t followed, however, it does become necessary to take action, and sometimes this does cause some dissension.

For instance, the commissioners are responsible for making sure that hangars are built safely and to standards meeting state law. We have placed stop-work orders on individuals who are in violation. In every case of a stop-work order, the problem was solved, and we all moved forward. In some cases the person didn’t know they were in violation, and in some cases there was blatant disregard for airport safety or the environment.

The airport tries to maintain a low profile on Cove Road. When we receive noise complaints caused by the local Vashon pilots, we take action to resolve the complaint. We ask all pilots to fly straight out on takeoff to an altitude of 900 feet above the ground before making a turn. We moved the traffic pattern to the west side of the airport to keep airplane noise away from town.

On the subject of airport changes, last year we placed ads in our local paper for a public hearing on safety improvements, but only a dozen or so individuals showed up. This year we qualified for an FAA safety grant of up to $150,000 per year, funds that will enable us to make needed safety improvements.

As a commissioner, I cannot turn down safety improvements so only local pilots will be able to use this airport, as some have suggested. Ignoring safety issues is not an acceptable option.

Over the years there have been several accidents and fatalities at this airport, and we don’t want that to happen in the future. Vashon is a municipal airport, and all pilots have the right to land here.

Your commissioners are committed to not seek funding from local taxes or levies but to fund the airport from its rental income.

The emergency med-evac pad located at the airport is an example of a project funded from airport rents and at no additional cost to the community. It is the only lighted helicopter-landing site on Vashon and is used on a regular basis to evacuate sick and injured Islanders to mainland hospitals.

Finally, I want to respond to George Kirkish’s charge in The Beachcomber article that commissioners were employing “Gestapo-like” tactics and violating his constitutional rights by asking to inspect airport hangars.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I also want to note that Kirkish is my opponent in the upcoming airport commission election.)

Airport management has always had the right to inspect any hangar under the terms of its lease with each tenant. The rules and regulations for the use of the airport have always indicated that hangars are for airplane use.

There is a long waiting list for hangar space at the airport; therefore, all hangars were inspected to determine if they contained airplanes. Those renters in violation were put on notice that those hangars need to be made available for those seeking a hangar space.

I also want to set the record straight as to Kirkish’s claim he had not been asked for proof of insurance for his airport business.

On Feb. 21, 2009, at the request of the commissioners, I sent him a letter asking for his insurance information, which I followed up with a call on March 30.

During this conversation, he and I agreed to meet the next day to discuss the insurance requirements as well as other topics. We met at Café Luna and talked at length. In that meeting Kirkish agreed to furnish the requested information, but to this date he has not done so.

— Al Paxhia is one of three commissioners elected to oversee the airport, is a pilot and has a hangar at the airport.

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