Flying "Into" the Grand Canyon

A dialog about the idiosyncrasies of flying helicopters in certain parts of Arizona.

I just spent the last 30 minutes or so cleaning up my e-mail in box. I have the nasty habit of not filing or discarding messages as quickly as they come in, so there were over 300 messages to wade through. I’d read all of them and flagged some. I wound up deleting about 1/3 of them, filing another 1/3 of them, and leaving the rest for another day.

Among the e-mail messages I found was a dialog between me and another pilot, Robert Mark of JetWhine. He’d e-mailed me to ask a question and although I normally don’t answer questions sent to me by e-mail — I prefer using the Comments feature on this site so the exchange of information can involve and possibly benefit others — I did answer his. Although I’d like to get the exchange out of my e-mail in box, I want to share it with readers, since I think it has some interesting information.

So here’s the exchange. I’ve mixed Robert’s questions with my answers to make the exchange easier to follow.

Robert:

As a helicopter pilot out west, I wondered if you might be familiar with this Grand Canyon topic.

Do you know if it is correct that tour copters operated through the tribal reservation run to different standards than those that are based elsewhere?

The Chicago Tribune ran a story about the Canyon Sunday and claimed the tribal-operated copters can dip well below the edge of the cayone on a tour where others can not.

It sounded pretty odd to me.

Me:

Helicopters operating on tribal lands with appropriate permits can actually LAND at the bottom of the canyon. This, of course, is on tribal land belonging to the Hualapai and Havasupai tribes in the western part of the canyon — not in the main National Park area.

Please send me a link to that article if it is online. I’d like to read it.

Robert:

Just happen to have that link to the Tribune handy.

So then as a tribal copter, do their pilots train to different standards if they only fly there?

Me:

No, they’re not owned by the tribes. They’re owned/operated by other companies, like Papillon and Maverick, both of which operate in Vegas and at the Grand Canyon.

I worked for Papillon at the Grand Canyon. Training for GCW (Grand Canyon West) consists of spending a day or so with another pilot, learning the route and getting the feel for the density altitude situation. It’s hotter than hell down there in midsummer. Anyone can do it, but they don’t normally train women because of limited housing out there. That’s one reason why I never learned.

Don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s not. Each flight is about 6 minutes long and you’re doing ups and downs all day. The canyon isn’t as deep there as elsewhere in the park. And it isn’t as if you’re cruising up and down the canyon all day. You’re not. Just ups and downs on a preset route. Tedious stuff. Flying the South Rim is far more rewarding.

Thanks for the article link. I’ve flown out there in my old R22. The article describes the place pretty well. It’s unfortunate that many Vegas tourists think GCW is “The Grand Canyon.” It’s just a tiny part of it — and not even the good part.

Robert:

Sorry, but I’m kind of dumb on Native American issues.

Me:

Don’t feel bad. A lot of people are.

The reservations are self-governing bodies within the U.S. In a way, they’re like they’re own countries. They make their own rules, but do have to answer to the U.S. government for some things.

Robert:

So these are regular helicopter tour operators that ALL get a special exemption to do whatever this writer was talking about then? And that comes from FAA or is FAA essentially not involved because it is tribal land?

Me:

Yes, the helicopter operators get permits from the tribes. When I say operators, I mean the companies, not the pilots. They pay a fee to the tribes that’s based on operations (takeoffs/landings), facilities (like landing zones next to the river), and other stuff. Theoretically, my company could apply for (and get and pay for) a permit to do the same thing Papillon is doing. But since GCW is a 2-hour flight from where I’m based, I haven’t tried.

Closing Note:

Since the opening of the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West, I’ve gotten a number of calls from people interested in flying out there. It’s a two-hour flight from the Phoenix area and I’d have to charge about $2K round trip (for up to 3 people; not per person). But the alternative is a 5-1/2 hour (each way) drive. For folks with money to spend, I can turn a two-day excursion to the middle of nowhere into a pleasant day trip. Still, I don’t expect many takers. Not many people are willing to blow $2K+ on a single day of fun.

Check and Tidy Up Your Credit

Take some time with your free credit reports and computer to clean up outstanding items.

I have very good credit and I work hard to keep it that way. I don’t ever want to be denied credit if I need it.

Start With a Clean Shop

The best way to keep your credit rating good is to follow a few simple policies:

  • Don’t sign up for a lot of credit cards. People (and, more likely, computers) who evaluate your credit look at the credit limits set up on your active credit card accounts to see what your potential total liability could be. $5000 here, $12,000 there, $9000 somewhere else — all that adds up, even if your outstanding balance is $0. After all, who knows if you’ll suddenly go on a credit card spending spree and max out all your cards?
  • Minimize personal loan use. A car loan is secured by a car. A mortgage is secured by property. A home equity loan is also secured by property. But personal loans aren’t secured at all. So if you go bankrupt, that’s just another loan a potential creditor would have to wait behind.
  • Speaking of bankruptcy, don’t go there. Declaring bankruptcy should only be used in dire circumstances — for example, you don’t have medical insurance and surgery or long-term treatment for something serious gets you in debt above and beyond your eyeballs. (Frankly, I think the government should provide medical coverage for these serious matters, but don’t get me started on that argument.)
  • Pay everything on time. Everything. Always. I’ve automated my payments through my bank account (not through my creditor’s billpay system) whenever possible. If online billing is not available, I set up to send a minimum amount to cover monthly bills so nothing is ever forgotten.
  • Don’t go into more debt than you have the ability to pay. This seems like a no-brainer, but people do it all the time. All your credit card minimum payments add up, you know. When they get to a point beyond what you can pay each month, you’ll be in serious trouble. And if you have a variable interest mortgage, remember that the monthly payments will go up soon (if they haven’t done so already) and you need to budget for that big increase. (If possible, refinance at a fixed rate or one that remains fixed for at least a few years. INGDirect has a great deal right now that you might want to check out.)

If you want to minimize interest expenses on revolving credit like credit cards, pay them on time in full every month. Not only will you save money — no interest! — but each month you’ll find yourself paying for just the things you bought in the previous month. Sure beats taking a year to pay off things you might not even have anymore.

Review Your Credit Report Regularly

Today, I took a few hours to download, review, and initial investigations for my three credit reports. It was an enlightening experience that gave me some peace of mind.

The U.S. government mandates that TransUnion, experíon, and Equifax must give you their version of your credit report once a year for free. To get your reports, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and follow the instructions that appear onscreen. You’ll have to provide your social security number and some other identifying information. You’ll then go to the Web sites of each credit report provider you selected (I chose all three) to request, view, and print your credit report. I got TransUnion’s and Equifax’s without any problem, but when I tried to get experíon’s, I entered a wrong number for a security question and was told I’d get validation info in the mail to proceed. Still, two reports were enough to get me started.

And no, you don’t have to subscribe to anything or pay $7.95 to get your credit score. (I was tempted to see the FICO number, but did not succumb.)

I found some incorrect information regarding my name (Equifax also has me listed as Maria Chilingerian, although I did not take my husband’s last name when we married and do not use the name at all) and addresses (both had a rental property I own as one of my residential addresses on file). Equifax had a bunch of former employers that were kind of scrambled up. I also found a number of outstanding credit card accounts that I’d opened in a store to get the 20% purchase discount (Old Navy, Pier One) that had never been cancelled. Equifax had a single “adverse accounts” item for an old Alltel bill I’d paid late after a dispute. Oddly enough, it was marked as paid, even though it showed up as an adverse item.

The reports color-code payment history, making it pretty easy to see how good (or bad) you’ve been at paying your bills on time. I was very pleased to see that all of my bills indicated that all payments were on time. I really do try hard.

Both companies offer online dispute investigation for items on the credit report. In each case, I logged in with special identifying information, navigated to the investigation page, and entered correct data or checked off items in a list. For example, I asked both to remove that rental property address and told them that a few credit card accounts indicated as open were now closed.

Prevent, or at Least Stop, Identity Theft

If I’d seen evidence of identity theft, there were boxes to check and forms to fill out to indicate that an item on the report wasn’t mine. This is the main reason everyone should review their credit report periodically. You can see what’s going on in your name and make sure someone else isn’t using your fine credit to finance their round-the-world cruise or new car. But in my case, although the reports were lengthy (I have a habit of taking advantage of those 0% credit card offers for exactly one year), I was personally responsible for initiating every item on them.

I should note here that I once did have my credit card number stolen and used for a handful of purchases before American Express, with the help of Sears, caught on. The whole thing took place over a period of less than a week and I was not held liable for the two charges that got through. No sign of this appears on my credit report. But if someone had opened a new account using my name and other identification information, that would have been very easy to spot.

Don’t Wait. Do it Today.

With identity theft running rampant and interest rates rising, it’s a good idea to go through your credit reports and tidy them up.

After all, who knows when you’ll want to refinance your home, buy a new car, or take advantage of one of those 0% interest offers?

Aircraft User Fees

And why general aviation pilots and businesses should be fighting back.

There’s been a lot of talk — and fighting against — the Bush Administration’s “Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007.” I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the details. But here are a few things that seem pretty clear to me.

Higher Fees Hurt Business

The User Fee system proposed by the Bush Administration may severely cut the activities of general aviation pilots. According to AOPA President Phil Boyer, “Nine out of 10 AOPA members have told us that this would reduce, curtail, or end their flying.” What’s that going to do for the aviation industry? As current pilots who can no longer afford to fly regularly sell off their aircraft, the used aircraft market becomes flooded. Fewer people will be buying new aircraft, so manufacturers will suffer. Suppliers to those manufacturers will suffer, as will employees all around.

As costs increase for general aviation businesses like flight schools, charter services, and tour outfits, those costs get passed along to consumers. That drives prices up, possibly making these services too costly for the marketplace. There are fewer customers. Businesses fail. This continues the cycle of used aircraft sales and unemployment.

Proposal Seems to Ask General Aviation Pilots to Bail Out Airlines

Shifting the cost of ATC services from airlines — which are responsible for hundreds of thousands of passenger hours a day — to general aviation is simply unfair. Many of these companies are failing financially because of their top-heavy management organization and unreasonable pay scales. Why is it that some airlines — Southwest comes to mind — are financially fit and offer good service to their customers while other airlines — think United — can’t stay afloat without government funds and pension rule changes? Could it be that some companies are simply managed better than others?

Do you think it would be fair for all people who use banks to pay a certain tax to the government for a fund that’ll bail out mismanaged banks that go under? Like the ones that gave out mortgages to anyone capable of writing their name on a form, no matter what their financial situation was?

Or how about a tax on drivers to be put in a fund to bail out automakers who don’t build the cars we want to buy at a price want to pay?

Or a tax on homeowners living in the desert for a fund that rebuilds oceanfront summer homes destroyed by hurricanes?

Is any of that fair?

Get Involved!

If you think the administration’s proposal is a bad one — or even if you want to learn more — get involved. If you’re an AOPA member, you can sign up to get e-mail notifications of developments, as well as instructions on how you can contact your government representatives to tell them what you think.

You can also go to this page to get more information about the funding debate.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Act now.

Congressman says he doesn't believe in God

Some thoughts about religion and government.

Earlier this month — much earlier; I’m just catching up with my reading now — Congressman Pete Stark of California became the first high-ranking politician to admit that he didn’t believe in God.

From “Congressman says he doesn’t believe in God” in the LA Times:

“When the Secular Coalition asked me to complete a survey on my religious beliefs, I indicated I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being,” Stark said. “Like our nation’s founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services.”

I have to commend Congressman Stark on his brave stance. In a day and age when an American’s value to his country seems linked with the depth of his religious beliefs, it’s refreshing to read about someone who isn’t a “me too” member of the Christian club.

I chose the quote above because it echoes my sentiments about religion:it has no place in our government. Early settlers came to the New World to escape religious persecution — this country was built, in part, on religious and cultural diversity. The founding fathers were careful not to promote one religion over another when drafting the documents that would structure the country’s government. The First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees religious freedom. I take that to mean the freedom to believe whatever you like.

There’s no place in public schools for prayer, there’s no place in the science classroom for creationism (no matter what it’s called), there’s no place in government buildings for the Ten Commandments. There’s no reason why our rights should be limited because certain members of the government believe that certain private behaviors — homosexuality, pre-marital sex, abortion — are “unacceptable to God.”

And look what happens in a country ruled by religion — a country like Iraq. Constant fighting among members of the different religious groups — groups with different versions of the same basic beliefs. As reported just yesterday in “Shiite police kill up to 60 in revenge spree” in USA Today:

Shiite militants and police enraged by massive truck bombings in the northwestern town of Tal Afar went on a revenge spree against Sunni residents there on Wednesday, killing as many as 60 people, officials said.

You might say that the U.S. could never get like that, but consider the bombings at abortion clinics and the hate crimes against gays. We’re only a step away.

So when I read that a Congressman has stepped forward to admit that he doesn’t believe in God and that he wants to stop the “promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services,” I feel a certain amount of hope for the future of our country.

The phrase that comes to mind is one I heard many times as a child: “Truth, justice, and the American way.” I’m all for it here.

Question the Media!

“Critical thinking” is the antidote for “truthiness” in our public life.

As the quality of our local newspaper here in Wickenburg declines to the point that it’s not worth spending the ten minutes it takes to read each week, I found “Skepticism: The antidote to ‘truthiness’ in American government and media” by Roy Peter Clark on Poytner Online a very interesting read. In preparing for an appearance on Oprah, he made a few notes, including this one:

4. Join with others in your community to analyze how you are being served or disserved by your local news media. As famed editor Gene Roberts said about one newspaper: “You can throw it up in the air and read it before it hits the ground.” What does your community need in the form of coverage that it is not getting? Who owns the news companies in your community? Are they in the news business to serve the public or to maximize their profits?

Or push the agendas of certain special interests?

Okay, so I added that last bit. But the point is, a newspaper should provide the news. All the news that matters to the public. Every side of every issue.

The current situation in Wickenburg’s local newspaper affects me directly: for the past three weeks, I’ve been mentioned in articles in the paper, but I have yet to be interviewed by a “reporter.” Tell me: how can a serious journalist write about a topic without speaking to the people who are making it newsworthy?

I’ll tell you how. When it isn’t in their best interest or the interest of their publication to objectively report all sides of an issue.

(A side note here: Lately, a large number of people in Wickenburg are outraged by the one-sidedness of the local newspaper. It’s gotten to the point that many people have cancelled their subscriptions. (Bravo! My husband and I did this well over a year ago and the only thing I miss is the regular supply of newsprint for the bottom of my parrot’s cage. I especially miss seeing his random bird droppings on photos of particular people here in town.) Some of them have even gone so far as to write letters to the publisher explaining why they are canceling. (I doubt that those letters will appear in the Letters to the Editor pages, which are the most popular pages in the paper.) Others have pledged to let their subscriptions lapse or simply stop picking it up on newsstands. Will this revolt by the people help? Probably not. If their finances begin to feel the pain of lost subscriptions, I’m sure one of the special interests they support will step up with a bailout. Quietly, of course. That’s how most Good Old Boy transactions are handled in this town.)

Mr. Clark adds this little bit of wisdom:

5. Look for role models of candor and accountability, people in public life who have proven to be reliable over time. Look for folks within a movement or political party who have the courage to speak, on occasion, against the interests of their own party.

Or against their government or town?

Frankly, Mr. Clark’s article has a lot of good advice — especially these days, when the media is spending more time manipulating public opinion than objectively reporting what’s important in the world around us. I highly recommend it to anyone.

Hermosa Ranch Insanity (revisited)

Clearing up a lot of misinformation.

It appears that Wickenburg’s Department of Misinformation has been working overtime on this one. Let me set the record straight:

The FAA did not approve Hermosa Ranch. Whoever told you that is either lying or using information obtained from the Department of Misinformation. In fact, I have in my possession, a letter to Miles Johnson, Town Planner and Airport Manager, from the FAA that states, in part:

Assurance 21, Compatible Land Use, stipulates that the Town will take all reasonable measures to restrict land uses adjacent to the airport to activities that are compatible with normal airport operations. Residential property in the vicinity of the airport is not a compatible land use. Airport noise will inevitably cause homeowners to complain about the airport and demand restrictions on airport operations. The FAA does not support this type of development next to the airport. In view of Assurance 21, why would the Town approve residential home [sic] so close to the airport?

Does that sound like the FAA approves of Hermosa Ranch? Right now, the Town of Wickenburg is on the verge of losing its FAA airport funding because it continues to approve residential zoning near the airport. That’s something the Department of Misinformation does not understand or want the people of Wickenburg to know.

Every single one of my petition’s signers knew exactly what he or she was signing. In explaining it, I used the same photo and illustration that appears on this site. I answered questions with facts, I presented FAA-prepared documents regarding recommended safe clearances. It took me a long time to get those signatures; people don’t just sign any old thing these days. Most people signed based on the noise concern alone. Everyone with a brain understands that people are not going to like living under the path of landing and departing airplanes. Photos and to-scale drawing of the situation do not lie. Where was this information when the project was presented to P & Z and the Town Council?

And again, why wasn’t the Airport Advisory Commission consulted about this?

And finally, it disgusts me that a printed list of people who signed my petition to stop Hermosa Ranch is being circulated and the signers harassed by the Chamber of Commerce and other people. Petitioning is a first amendment right and a government body — or representatives of that body — are violating that right when they harass people who are exercising it.

What’s going on in Wickenburg? And when is it going to stop?

The Hermosa Ranch Insanity

Greed and stupidity collide.

In early October, the Wickenburg Town Council approved a 34-unit subdivision on 35 acres of land on “Vulture Mine Road near the Country Club.” That’s how the land’s location was described in the newspaper and likely in the P & Z and Town Council Meetings. It was not given its other descriptor: approximately 3400 feet from the departure end of Wickenburg Municipal Airport’s runway 5 (see photo).

Hermosa RanchI heard about this newly approved subdivision and did some research. I learned that it had been proposed in mid August and had miraculously gone through the approval process in about six weeks. A miracle of Town efficiency — the same town that took four months to choose between two bids for an Airport Fuel Manager last year. The same town that routinely keeps old business “old business” at many commission meetings, including the Airport Advisory Commission’s monthly meetings.

Perhaps that’s why it didn’t take so long to approve. It was never presented to the Airport Commission, despite the fact that it lies well within the airport’s area of influence.

As most regular readers know, one of my jobs is as a pilot. I operate an FAA-certificated Part 135 charter operation at Wickenburg Airport. That means a few things. It means that I’m a commercial pilot who has undergone extensive flight training and testing to meet certain standards. It means that I have gone the extra step to get special certification from the FAA to perform operations above and beyond those allowed by basic, “Part 91” commercial operators. It means I meet with the FAA regularly for flight checks and am subjected to unannounced inspections of my aircraft, hangar facility, and documents. I also operated the Airport Fuel Manager concession at the airport for a year and a half not long ago — a fact that a few people seem anxious to forget.

In other words, I know a little bit about aviation, airport operations, and FAA regulations.

And I know that putting homes within 100 feet of an airport’s runway centerline is not only stupid, but potentially dangerous for home and property owners.

Sure, someone will buy these homes. There are deaf people who won’t be bothered by the sound of flight school airplanes from Deer Valley and Goodyear doing touch-and-gos past or over their homes throughout the day every day. I’m not sure how they’ll like the rattling of their china when a jet departs. And there are lots of people who make home purchase decisions on the very day they see a piece of property — perhaps a windy or overcast day or a summer day when the airport isn’t very busy and the Realtor says something like, “There’s an airport to the west, but you can see how busy it is.” (A local Realtor once told me that he spent all day at his west-side subdivision and only saw two planes operating. His subdivision’s homes are right under the airport’s traffic pattern where at least 75% of the pilots fly. I can only imagine what he tells potential buyers.) There might even be a few people who think they like planes and might find living under the approach and departure path to an airport kind of interesting. I assure you, the novelty will wear off quickly. It sure wore off quickly when a train lover like me moved into a home next to a railroad track. It wasn’t easy to find another sucker to buy the house, either.

But what happens when Wickenburg gets commuter airline service? This isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. Such service is already available in Prescott, Kingman, Lake Havasu, and Bullhead City. As Wickenburg’s precious roof count soars, it’s only a matter of time before such service is demanded by its citizens. Wickenburg won’t have 737s landing on its newly extended 6,000 foot runway, but it’s likely to have large turboprop planes or small commuter jets. The runway already accommodates 10 to 20 jet operations per week in the peak season — why do you think the town wanted the runway extended in the first place? What if there were an additional 14 operations per week with daily flights by Mesa Air or some other regional carrier? Do you know how much noise these kinds of planes make during takeoff?

And don’t hand me that tired old line about Forepaugh. Forepaugh is a dirt strip 15 miles west that isn’t even marked by name on a chart. Wickenburg has no jurisdiction over it and it straddles State and BLM land. Even if the Town of Wickenburg did manage to cough up the money to buy or lease the land (don’t forget airport insurance), it would take years and millions of dollars to get it up to the standards needed to allow commercial jet operations. And don’t forget — the Town would probably have to use eminent domain to get possession of the ranch that already exists on the south end of that runway, right on Route 60. How long do you think that will take? Forepaugh as a regional airport is at least 20 years away. Wickenburg will have likely annexed all the land up to Aguila by then.

But noise is only one problem with locating homes at the end of a runway. The other, more important problem is safety.

Think for a moment about how a plane takes off. Even if you’re not a pilot, you should be able to visualize a takeoff. The plane starts at one end of the runway, where the pilot opens the throttle wide for power. The engine roars as the props (or jet engine) produce thrust. The plane rolls down the runway, gathering speed. When the plane reaches a certain velocity, the pilot pulls back on the yoke (or stick) and the plane’s nose tilts up. The plane lifts off the ground. It then begins its climb into the air.

The steepness of an airplane’s climb (and the amount of runway it needs to reach takeoff speed) depends on a few things:

  • How powerful is the airplane’s engine? A powerful plane can climb out at a steeper angle than one with a less powerful engine.
  • How heavy is the airplane? A lighter plane — one with just a pilot and a light load of fuel — can climb out at a steeper angle than one full of people and fuel.
  • How hot is it outside? Hot temperatures reduce aircraft performance, making it more difficult to climb out on takeoff.

All kinds of planes come to Wickenburg Airport and every takeoff is different. An ultralight with one person on board can climb out at an amazing angle, using only a little bit of runway. But a fully loaded single engine air tanker (SEAT), like those that operate at Wickenburg airport during the hot summer fire season, uses every inch of runway and climbs out at a very shallow angle. Other planes have takeoff profiles somewhere in between.

The FAA recommends a 20:1 ratio for a runway’s approach/departure corridor. That means that for every 20 feet away from the runway end, a plane is expected to climb at least 1 foot. With 3400 feet from the end of Runway 5 to the property line of Hermosa Ranch, that means planes could be flying over Hermosa Ranch as low as 170 feet off the ground. Would you like an airplane flying that low over your house on takeoff?

It’s this shallow angle that should concern the developers of Hermosa Ranch. Imagine a freshly refueled SEAT, heavy with a load of fire retardant. The pilot rolls down the runway, gathers speed, and lifts off less than 3500 feet from a Hermosa Ranch house to fight a fire at Lake Pleasant. He’s only 200 feet off the ground as he nears Hermosa Ranch. Suddenly and without warning, his engine quits. Where do you think that plane is going to hit the ground? And with a load of Jet fuel on board, how much damage do you think the post-crash fire will cause? Are you still imagining? Then imagine that plane crashing near a birthday party around the pool in someone’s backyard.

Right now, there’s a big empty patch of land that stretches from the departure end of Runway 5 to Vulture Mine Road (see photo). If Hermosa Ranch didn’t exist, that plane would crash and burn in that empty land. The world would lose a pilot and a plane, not one or more homes or possibly dozens of people.

Think engine failures on takeoff don’t happen? Go to the NTSB Accident database and search for “engine failure takeoff” and get the truth. Just because you didn’t hear about it on the evening news doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The NTSB’s Web site lists scores of accidents all over the country that occurred on takeoff or landing. Engine failure is just one scenario.

So it appears to me that either the Hermosa Ranch developers don’t care about the safety of their subdivision’s home buyers (not likely) or they didn’t fully think out the safety implications of building so close to the end of a runway.

What’s troubling to me, however, is that the Town of Wickenburg failed to fully investigate the potential conflicts of such a development with airport operations. Although the proposal was presented to the P & Z Commission, the warnings presented there by then-Council Candidate George Wilkinson went completely unheeded. There was no effort on the part of the P & Z staff or Town Planner, Miles Johnson, to investigate the FAA guidelines regarding building near airports. These guidelines are available on the FAA’s Web site 24/7. If Dr. Johnson or his assistant didn’t have the time to look them up, a few phone calls would have gotten them an answer. The phone numbers are on the Web, too.

I got the documents and made the phones calls to the FAA to confirm my belief that the FAA would not be happy with the Hermosa Ranch subdivision proposal. It took me about 20 minutes. The FAA compliance person I spoke to was amazed that such a subdivision would even be considered at that location. If Dr. Johnson — who is also Airport Manager — had done his job, he would have been better informed about the potential problems with this proposed subdivision.

It has been claimed that the “airport consultants” approved the development. Who are they and what kind of authority do they have? And is their approval in writing? I seriously doubt it, since making such an approval could get them into hot water if liability issues arose. (I can only imagine the lawsuits generated by a plane crash/birthday party accident like the one we imagined earlier.)

Why wasn’t the Airport Advisory Commission consulted about the Hermosa Ranch proposal? The commission, which has 5 (of 7) members who are active pilots in Wickenburg, would certainly have pointed out the conflicts between the airport and proposed development. Yet Dave Lane, who sits on the Town Council and Airport Commission (as its Chairman for the past four or more years) failed to bring it up to the Commission for discussion. The Airport Commission members I spoke to didn’t even know about the development until after it had been passed by the Town Council. Councilman Lane’s failure to bring up this project for discussion and his rubber-stamping of the approval were irresponsible and a complete neglect of his duties as Councilman and Chairman of the Airport Advisory Commission.

So what are we left with? A 34-home subdivision in the path of arriving and departing airplane traffic at Wickenburg Municipal Airport, with homes less than 100 feet from the extended runway centerline — that’s the path planes attempt to follow when taking off or landing. A subdivision approved in what’s probably record time by P & Z and the Town Council after ignoring safety and noise issues presented by at least two Wickenburg residents. A proposal never presented to the Airport Advisory Commission for discussion, never researched with the FAA for compliance with “airport-compatible zoning” requirements. A development that appears to have the only goal of adding to Wickenburg’s roof count, placing high-priced homes in an undesirable and potentially unsafe location.

Why did I start a petition to stop this insanity? Do you really have to ask?

When the elected officials fail to make decisions that are in the best interest of all citizens (rather than a handful of supporters), it’s the duty of the public to step forward and, using the democratic process guaranteed by the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, provide input and guidance. My petition was a wake-up call, the only way I knew of to get the attention of the Town’s elected officials and staff and the public. It was a way to get the FAA involved to offer guidelines to the Town for making airport-vicinity zoning decisions. It was a way to propose a safety zone around the airport, one that can prevent the horror of a plane crash on take-off from taking more lives than just the ones on the ill-fated plane.

I’m not the only person who thinks that Hermosa Ranch and any building at the end of the runway is a bad idea. Of the 79 people I approached for signatures, 76 of them signed. Two of the signers are Airport Advisory Commission members. If they’d been consulted before this got to the Town Council — as they should have — the proposal is likely to have been denied on the very grounds I cited in my petition and in this article.

Safety should come first. Lifestyle should come next. Profit should come near the end of the list. Shouldn’t it?

Now, I understand that members of Wickenburg’s Good Old Boy Network are whining that this petition will cost the Town of Wickenburg $10,000 to run an election and put it to vote. I want to remind those people — and the rest of Wickenburg’s citizens — that if the Town Council and P & Zoning Commission had done their jobs and made a responsible decision, this petition and the costly election would not be necessary at all.

What do you think about this? Don’t tell me — I’ve already done my part. Call the Mayor, Council Members, and the Town Planner. Town Hall can be reached at 928/684-5451. Call the members of the P & Z Commission — you can get their names from the Town Clerk. Ask them why they approved such a plan. Ask them if they care about Wickenburg and the safety and well-being of all of its residents.

And let them know that you care — at least as much as I do.