During a luncheon sponsored by the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, DeKalb-Peachtree Airport’s (PDK), Interim General Manager Mario Evans addressed the past, present and future of the airport and its relationship with the surrounding community.

Earlier this month, four people died after a small aircraft took off from PDK and collided with a highway barrier during a forced landing attempt on I-285, according to the preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“The only reason why it was publicized is because you don’t hear about airline crashes that often,” Evans told the luncheon crowd on May 26.

Reaction from local residents has been one of concern and worry that Evans described as “the sky is falling” panic. “There’s nothing falling,” he said. “Aviation is one of the safest industries, transportation wise. The last fatality that I know of is back in ‘78 that happened here at PDK.”

The NTSB has said the investigation of the fatal crash may take up to a year to conclude, and Evans is confident PDK will be absolved of any blame.

“The only thing that directly links PDK to the crash is that he [the pilot] had bought 20 gallons of fuel here,” Evans said. “And that wasn’t enough to infect his tank.”

Evans spent a majority of the luncheon highlighting PDK’s growing economic transformation. PDK ranks, he said, in the top 10 in terms of busiest general aviation (everything but military and commercial planes) airports in both the state (second) and the country (ninth). “I’m nothing but a big landlord,” Evans said. “The airport is an enterprise fund for the county; we generate money.”

According to PDK’s financial records, the airport’s budget was more than $12.9 million last year, which included a $5 million operating cost.

General tax funds do not support the airport, so Evans relies on convincing local business and political leaders that PDK is an investment in the community.

Having a highly popular and functioning general aviation airport helps the metro Atlanta area attract what he called “surge events,” such as professional sports All-Star games and the NCAA’s Final Four he said.

But the taking off of PDK financially does not mean everyone is along for the ride. Nearby residents have expressed concerns about the noise level, and disapproval of the usage of surrounding property that some Brookhaven residents want to become a public park.

“The culprit behind the noise is the older technology aircrafts that will be phased out at the end of 2015,” Evans assured, citing a government mandate.

As for the property contention, Evans sees that as a misrepresentation of PDK’s land. The Federal Aviation Administration granted PDK permission to sell the area, but only if it sold at fair market value.

“That area that the citizens call ‘green space’ is a runway protection zone for the airport,” Evans said. “We have eight of them around the airport.”

–By Titus Falodun

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