A coalition of businesses at the Chandler Municipal Airport is hoping to convince city officials to repeal a law requiring voter approval to extend the runways, since the proposal has suffered electoral defeat twice in recent years.
The Chandler Airport Alliance, which represents about a dozen airport businesses, plans to submit a business plan for the facility to the city’s Airport Advisory Commission in the next several weeks, said John Walkup, who heads up the alliance.
One aspect of the plan calls on the City Council to throw out a law it passed in 1999 giving city voters the sole authority to approve funding to extend the runways by several hundred feet.
“If you don’t remove the restriction, the likelihood of the airport being self-sustaining or growing is very slim,” said Walkup, who owns the Chandler Air Service flight school, the airport’s oldest business.
The effort already is running into some resistance from nearby neighbors like Guy Pepoy, who has lived immediately south of the airport for about seven years.
“Democracy is democracy. The voters spoke, but he won’t let it die,” Pepoy said. “I’m appalled that they’re going forward with another attempt.”
Pepoy said the runway extension will allow larger corporate planes to land with more frequency, meaning more noise and pollution for the neighborhood.
“I’ve got a nice little home and I want it to stay that way,” Pepoy said.
Greg Chenoweth, who manages the city-owned airport, said plans call for extending the northeast runway by 650 feet, and the southwest runway by 250 feet.
Public opposition to the plan dates back to 1989, when voters approved an initiative to ban jet airplanes from the municipal airport because of noise concerns. However, the initiative quickly ran into legal challenges over its constitutionality, according to Jim Phipps, a city spokesman.
Under the threat of lawsuit, the City Council declined to authorize the voter-approved law, and instead voted to limit the runways to 4,850 feet, the current length.
In 1998, the council adopted a new airport master plan that set the runway’s ultimate length at 6,800 feet. But officials also passed a law mandating a bond election be held for any extension to ensure that any decision to lengthen the airport’s runway beyond the current 4,850 feet would be put to a public vote, according to Phipps.
A $1 million bond issue was put to the voters in 2000 but failed by about 51 percent to 49 percent. The total project cost was estimated at $32 million, but the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to pay about 95 percent of any major airport expansion project, with the state and city each responsible for 2.5 percent of the cost.
A second, $65,000 bond election held in 2007 for a much smaller, $2.3 million project also failed to garner enough support.
Walkup said business at the airport is stagnating, and the opposition to longer runways threatens the airport’s long-term fiscal viability. The CAA’s proposed business plan calls on the City Council to repeal the law mandating voter approval. The plan has several other provisions to bring in more revenue and control costs, he said.
“Cuts here, promotion there, change the fee structure over here. It’s a comprehensive plan: every aspect of the airport,” he said. “The city has never had a business plan for the airport. The city staff has done virtually nothing to improve the airport. The facilities haven’t been maintained in a long time.”
But Pepoy said the public has spoken.
“The voters have addressed this issue three times. It’s been debated for 20 years now,” he said. “It’s always the citizens who have said, 'No, we don’t want our airport to be bigger and noisier.”
Pepoy said public meetings with city staff and airport representatives have been “exceptionally adversarial.”
“That galvanizes people,” he said. “It’s like, 'Ok, let’s play ball.’”
Extending the runways would bring in more corporate jets, which create more noise and pollution and use much more fuel than smaller private planes, Pepoy said.
“You talk about a super polluter,” he said.
He accused Walkup of pushing the issue in part to sell more jet fuel.
“It becomes an issue of money,” Pepoy said.
But Walkup said corporate jets tend to be newer, with technology that makes them both cleaner and quieter than smaller planes.
Chenoweth said the runway extensions wouldn’t bring in any heavier or larger planes than the airport currently allows, but would let corporate jets, which typically carry 10 to 15 people, to use the airport year-round instead of having to avoid the airport during summer months.
As air gets hotter, it expands, but planes still need to have the same volume of air passing under the wings to stay aloft, he said. Therefore, pilots must go faster on takeoffs and landings, and they need longer runways, he said.
“It would allow aircraft flying in now for the winter to do it in the summer,” Chenoweth said.
Walkup said he believes the previous bond elections lost because the public was misinformed.
“Every single argument they brought up is false, but the public believes it,” he said. “They think we’re out to do something wrong, but we’re just running our businesses the way they’re supposed to be.”