By Jason Massad
Should Dekalb-Peachtree Airport continue thousands of flights each month centered around corporate aircraft and recreational flyers or transform into a larger airport with bigger aspirations?
That’s a question that some people with a stake in the issue say needs to be clearly defined as the main reliever airport in Atlanta for Hartsfield-Jackson continues to grow.
The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has stalled out for five months on the approval of a Federal Aviation Administration-required “airport layout plan.” The plan is scheduled to come back for approval by the commission at a December meeting.
An attorney representing Open DeKalb, Inc., a nonprofit group lobbying against the airport plan as written, says two innocuous-looking aspects of the current proposal are in fact sinister. Both changes could create more noise problems at the airport and air pollution, lawyer Susan Gouinlock said.
Technically, the new plan would allow aircraft up to 75,000 pounds to more regularly take off and taxi from the airport’s runways, she said. In turn, the plan would allow larger jets.
The airport plan would have breezed through the commission without the lobbying of Open DeKalb, Inc., she said. The group sees the incremental changes in the airport’s operations as an opening door to heavier air traffic and more environmental impacts around the tony neighborhoods in Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
“It would have been approved immediately and with no discussion,” she said of the airport plan. “I think this is the first time [commissioners] realized they are going to have to marshal resources to understand changes at this airport, because this airport is a major public facility.”
Jeff Rader, DeKalb County commissioner for District 2, is advocating creating a broader vision at the airport that spells out changes over the next decade and beyond.
The county has a need to immediately pass an airport layout plan to guarantee continued funding of the airport by the FAA. However, the plan that’s currently on the table might not garner enough support to pass. Rader said he wants to hold the line on changes at the airport until a broader master plan can delineate the vision for the reliever airport over the next 10 to 20 years.
“The [airport layout plan] will be a step on the path that will bring us together or continue to split us apart,” Rader said. “A master plan could then answer the question of the targeted mission of the airport. Is it a commercial aviation or a corporate airport? We need to resolve questions like that and then have a plan that goes out and tries to pursue those goals.”
Mike Van Wie, interim airport director, said that much of the discussion about the changes in the proposed airport layout plan has little to do with airport operations
“Exceptions” of the current layout plan, approved in 1992, are a hot topic for Open DeKalb, Inc. The reported “exceptions” – which can mean the airport is hosting larger aircraft than the current 66,000 pound limit – were monitored over a two-month period by the nonprofit group, he said.
Those “exceptions” were not even a tenth of a percentage of the some 22,000 take offs and landings that occurred at the airport over the same time period.
He said that changing the airport layout plan to allow 75,000-pound aircraft from 66,000 and to allow a larger class of jet airplane is not a major change to the airport’s operations.
“We’ve presented a plan that reflects the way the airport operates today,” Van Wie said.
Distrust runs deep between Open DeKalb, Inc. and the Peachtree-DeKalb Airport. The airport was on the losing end of a 2005 open records lawsuit filed by the nonprofit group.
Peachtree-DeKalb airport, through an agreement with Jackson-Hartsfield Airport and the FAA related to the use of noise monitoring equipment, attempted to shield “the basic information about what types of aircrafts were going in and out of the airport,” Gouinlock said.
Planes coming in and out of the airport could become more of problem, she said.
“This is what we have been saying to the Board of Commissioners,” she said. “What is the noise and air pollution impacts of allowing these larger aircraft?”