Airpark Criticism Ignores Actual and Potential Benefits
January 28, 2015
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  • Brian Benhaim’s calls for “real reforms” in the wake of the tragic plane crash near the Airpark in December [Jan. 7 Forum] lack benefits to the community while greatly benefitting Mr. Benhaim and any of his neighbors who chose to move to a house near the Airpark.

    As a pilot for a major airline who started his career at the Airpark, I find Benhaim’s “reforms” overreaching. His plans are not real solutions. They are a veiled attempt by a NIMBY citizen to promote a selfish cause springboarded by a tragic accident.

    Banning touch-and-go operations because they are a nuisance to “legitimate commercial traffic” is like asking Mr. Benhaim to drive off to the shoulder of Route 124 whenever he sees a commercial truck, bus, or limo in his rear-view mirror. Airplanes already in the pattern have the right of way, and all jet pilots know this and adjust accordingly. After all, they likely became jet pilots by practicing touch-and-goes at the local airport.

    Attempting to ban jets that don’t have a qualified copilot is not something that local government can police. That’s the jurisdiction of the FAA, who certifies airplanes to be flown by a single pilot versus two. Single-pilot jet operations have been in use for more than 30 years. Trust me, because of this accident, the NTSB and FAA will be looking far more closely at this exemption.

    His final proposal to simply close the airport would be a boon for the value of nearby homes, perhaps including his. But, municipal airports are a part of the National Airspace System. In the event of disaster, that single runway at the Airpark may serve as a lifeline for Montgomery County residents as supplies fly in and injured are flown out to safer areas.

    And let’s not forget the air-ambulance flights, Angel Flights, pet-rescue missions and many other good-cause flights that take place at the Airpark, but are sadly under reported.

    Benhaim also has his facts wrong about other issues. First, the traffic at the airport fell precipitously after 2000 because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the establishment of highly restricted airspace overlying the Airpark. Many operators moved their airplanes to get out from under the bureaucratic burden of the airspace and risk of fighter intercepts, not because of higher risk factors from overflying the rampant development around the Airpark.

    Second, Benhaim says eminent domain was used to “expand operations at the airport, so bigger jets could land here.” This is flat-out false. The runway at the Airpark has been the same length since 1971. If he’s referring to the development of the Webb tract, that is a county building under construction there and has nothing to do with the Airpark.

    The reality is that any proposal to expand or improve the Airpark has been reliably shot down for the last 40 years thanks to residents like Benhaim and their tactics. Compared to other small airports in the area, our Airpark has seen very little improvement. Few businesses keep airplanes here because the runway is too short and there’s no instrument landing system to guide airplanes in during low weather.

    Instead of protecting and embracing the airport, politicians, developers, and NIMBY residents have for years attempted to strangle the life out of it. So far, it’s working.

    Peter A. Bedell, Gaithersburg