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Buffalo-Lancaster Airport meeting, Part I: Airport, FFA, presentations
By Lee Chowaniec
Aug 7, 2009, 10:48
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Approximately 150 Lancaster residents, airport pilots/management, FAA and politicos attended a meeting at the Buffalo-Lancaster Airport (BLA) to review and address safety issues caused by aircraft flying at low altitudes over populated areas at an unregulated private airport and in a flight pattern that is in conflict with air traffic from the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport (BINA).

A Congressman Christopher Lee associate apologized for Lee’s absence due to a schedule conflict. His entire staff was there to hear from the officials from the FAA regarding the concerns here at the Buffalo-Lancaster airport. He referred to an agenda handout that outlined the meeting’s format. Before the public would be allowed to comment, presentations would be made by airport representatives, their consultants, several FAA administrators, the Buffalo-Niagara International air traffic manager (control tower) and flight school manager Bob Millar.

Airport Owner Tom Geles’ comments

In over 40 years that he has been at the airport there has never been anyone injured on the ground and now he is hearing concerns on how people have the perception of planes falling to the ground. “Because it is a perception, it needs to be addressed. As a good neighbor, I also believe you need to be realistic. I encourage you to look at objective facts, statistics and credible sources before we reach conclusion. I am not insensitive to the loss of life form losses resulting from recent aviation crashes, but life goes on. We must learn from those incidents and make adjustments to eliminate or minimize the reoccurrences.”

Geles declared the airport wanted to be a good neighbor and would work with the neighbors to make that happen. He has resources in the aviation world to make it happen. He stayed away from giving specifics at the town board meeting for reasons of distortion; that is reserved for federal jurisdiction. “We are good neighbors and I don’t want to be in court. The airport has always been a good neighbor and will continue to be a good neighbor.” Geles added that although he had expert local resources, it was necessary to bring in federal people and that’s what they did tonight.

Geles’ resources and the FAA would provide suggestions on how to work with the residents who are complaining about “alleged” stories about planes flying between houses; an inflammatory remark that should have been addressed, and another inflammatory remark that there houses were at ground zero. Those statements serve some other purpose, maybe a valid purpose in the handbook for community organizers, but it doesn’t belong in a process that addresses concerned citizens. I am hoping tonight concerned citizens will reach a more sophisticated level by considering facts, experts in the field; not looking where you don’t know regulations, you don’t know aviation and jump at conclusions because it serves some useful purpose, for whatever reason.

Shawn Bray – Airport Engineering

Geles introduced airport engineer Shawn Brady and asked him to give a rundown on the airport expansion. Brady, of Passero Associates, informed the attendees that his company has worked with the airport for 11 years. They provide aviation engineering, planning design, grants and improvements. Passero has been involved with the airport for 10 of those years.

Passero provided the following information:

Back in the 90’s Lancaster airport became designated as a reliever airport to direct smaller and slower plane traffic away from BNIA, a metro airport; as was being done nationally.

Being designated a reliever airport allowed it to receive FAA funding for improvements; mostly safety and capacity.
Conditions were applied to the FAA grants: In getting funding for land acquisition, the airport has agreed to be an airport in perpetuity. The airport also has to maintain the facility (full service). Lastly, the airport is an open-use public facility (no private clubs).

The Airport Improvement Plan (AIP) funding used in the last ten years for development comes from three sources. The Aviation Trust Fund (fuel taxes) is the primary source. The State of New York has invested heavily in the expansion project. The airport itself contributes to the operation. The bulk of the construction came from FAA funding.

The AIP money focuses mainly on safety. The airport is significantly safer now than ten years ago. A lot of land has been acquired and obstructions removed. The planning design calls for the extension of the runway and several companies have shown interest in using the facility. The FAA is a good partner for the airport, as for the grant funding.

Diane Crean – Deputy Regional Administrator Eastern Region of the FAA

Thanked Congressman Lee for the invite to have FAA attend to address the issues that have come up. “The FAA’s number one mission is safety,” declared Crean. “That is what the FAA works for. Tonight we have representatives from three of our large FAA organizations.”

Crean stated that those reps would make presentation on how the airport’s safety was ensured; how funding was provided by the FAA to accomplish that. They will identify the safety rules for the pilots in the air and how they ensure the aircraft are safe to be flown.

Carl Kohl, Manager of the FAA’s Flight Standard’s District Office

Kohl voiced that his operation was responsible for regulatory compliance, certification of pilots and the people that maintain the airplane – traffic cops of the sky. People wonder whether there is any control at the Lancaster airport.

Airworthiness: They don’t see a control tower and wonder whether there are rules and guidelines present. “There are a lot of them, said Kohl. On the simplest of flights there are between 30 – 60 rules they have to comply with before they even take a flight; yearly inspections, additional 100 hours of flight time inspections, addressing manufacturing flaws (mandatory), etc.

Regulations: There are many according to Kohl under the Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 (1-140 chapters).

• The plane must be airworthy.

• The pilot must comply with operating limitations of the aircraft.

• No pilot may operate an airplane in a careless or reckless manner endangering the life or property of another. Must operate plane in a safe manner.

• There are federal regulations concerning use of alcohol and drug. Pilot limitation on alcohol content is at 0.04.

• Pilot in command must be aware of and factor in things like weather conditions, moving parts, takeoff and landing procedures before he takes off on even the simplest of flights.

• Operating with other aircraft: There are rules just like for boats operating in water where other boats are present. This includes planes that are under air traffic control.

• Right-away rules when operating in the sphere of other aircraft.

• The Lancaster Airport is a Class G airport with a certain set of standards. This says all direction turns approaching the airport without a control tower (which is this airport) must make left-hand turns; this prevents planes from flying in all directions.

• Traffic pattern: all left turns are required by airport regulations. Take off, turn left (crosswind leg), turn left (downwind leg), turn left into base leg and left into final leg. The only regulation at this airport that is enforceable is if a plane made a right turn at takeoff. Everything else is recommended by the FAA.

• Weather conditions must be right to allow for flight takeoff. Aircraft must have minimum equipment features.

• *Minimum safe altitude (MSA): When operating an airplane over a congested area you have to be 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle. In a non congested area you have to be 500 feet above the highest obstacle. As for takeoff and landing, a person may operate an aircraft below those altitudes. It is necessary when landing to be much lower than MSA regulations. When landing you can basically take the regulations and throw them out the window. The same for takeoff until the plane can reach required standard altitude. The plane is going to be lower than 1,000 feet; lower than 500 feet. People need to be aware that aircraft have vastly different performance features; different climb rate capability. If an aircraft can only reach an altitude of 700 feet before it’s time for it to descend for landing (touch and go practices), we are not going to cite it for violation because its altitude was under recommended 800 feet. Its entire flight pattern was in a takeoff / landing mode.

Pilot Safety Requirements:

FAA medical certification – FAA medical doctor

Competency: Checked every 24 months to ensure he/she is capable

Flight Instructors: Requirements and 24 month recertification

Student pilots: Before going out to fly an aircraft solo they have to pass tests; flight training and proficiency in understanding FAA requirements and recommendations.

Comment

*Game, set, match. Pilots at the Buffalo-Lancaster Airport can fly at any altitude when in the takeoff / landing mode. In fact, the Safe Aviation Coalition (SAC) were previously informed by a FAA official that planes could be just about touching their roof tops and there was nothing that could be done about it.

Before reaching any conclusion, please read the entire series.

NEXT: Part II: BNIA Traffic Control / Planning & Programming presentations

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