Critics, Airport Commission Remain At Odds

by Tim Wood
The area is yellow represented a change in the approach zone at Chatham Municipal Airport. Voters will be asked to adopt the new map at the upcoming annual town meeting.  CHATHAM AIRPORT GRAPHIC The area is yellow represented a change in the approach zone at Chatham Municipal Airport. Voters will be asked to adopt the new map at the upcoming annual town meeting. CHATHAM AIRPORT GRAPHIC

CHATHAM – About the only clear takeaway from the airport commission’s public information meeting last week was that airport critics remain deeply distrustful of the commission on many issues.

While commissioners explained numerous times that their chief goal is safety and that no expansion of the airport is planned, critics asserted that adoption of a new approach zone map and the cutting of trees in the flight path paves the way for more and larger aircraft to use the George Ryder Road facility.

About the only area of agreement that came from the two-hour-plus meeting April 10 was that a new “Fly Friendly” program and voluntary airport use restrictions could reduce late-night and early-morning noise from aircraft. Airport critics, however, were skeptical of how the curfew on flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. would be enforced.

Great Hill resident Bob Nelson questioned how the commission would respond to noise complaints about the biplane operated by airport management firm Stick and Rudder.

“During the season, that plane flies over my house once, twice a day, more than that, and the noise is unbelievably unbearable,” he said.

Commissioner William Schultz said the complaint would be addressed at the commission’s next meeting. Earlier in the session, he said the commission cannot legally restrict aircraft use of the airport but hopes to use the voluntary curfew to educate pilots about the concerns of residents who live near the facility.

“To be very honest, airports make noise,” he said. By law, the airport is open 24/7, but the commission is able to track flights in and out of Chatham and can contact pilots who don’t adhere to the curfew and request that they do so.

Chair Huntley Harrison stressed that the airport’s goal is “safety, safety, safety” for pilots, residents and visitors, both on the ground and in the air. No expansion of the airport is planned, he added. “Chatham will remain pretty much as it is now,” he said. The type of aircraft that can use the airport is limited by the length of the runway, and the commission is not encouraging use by larger aircraft or commercial services.

“There’s no plan or hidden agenda to encourage larger aircraft,” he said. “I’ll keep repeating this because it’s important.” The airport is like a highway, he said. “We cannot control how many airplanes come into the airport.”

At the May 13 annual town meeting, voters will be asked to adopt a new airport approach zone map to replace one from 1958. The new map reflects the approach zone as it has been in existence for many years, Harrison said. “Since that time, things have changed, aircraft have changed, the runway has changed,” he said. The new map reflects current Federal Aviation Administration-mandated guidelines, he said.

“Pilots have been using this map for a long time,” he said. Once the new map is approved, property owners within the expanded area will receive notification, but many, if not most, have already been contacted as part of the commission’s effort to trim trees that have grown up within the approach zone. An interactive map on the commission’s website allows property owners to check if they are within the new approach zone, he added.

The commission is working toward a new straight-in approach, which Harrison said is safer than the current approach, which requires that aircraft circle until they can land visually. Riverbay resident Leo Eldredge said the straight-in approach will reduce noise because it allows planes to land at lower power.

The cutting of trees was a contentious subject. Citing a conservation commission meeting, Harriet Prout said thousands of trees would be cut on 62 acres. Harrison said that acreage includes the entire transition zone within the airport property, but that trees will only be cut or trimmed on only five or so acres within the approach zone.

Resident Juris Ukstins asserted that the commission has an agenda to increase traffic and commercial airline use of the airport. It began in 2009 when, he said, lights were installed on the runway. Harrison disputed that, saying that he flew into Chatham in the late 1980s and there were lights on the runway then. The lighting was upgraded in 2009, he added.