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EAA Opposes Closing Opa-Locka West Airport

 

May 24, 2006 — EAA has formally submitted its opposition to the proposed closing of Opa-Locka West Airport (X46) in south Florida, a general aviation airport used extensively by recreational, ultralight and light-sport aircraft enthusiasts, and area flight training operations. The Miami-Dade Aviation Department (MDAD) informed the FAA in April that it wants to decommission the facility because "the property is no longer needed as an aeronautical facility for the operation of the county's system of public use airports."

EAA feels the proposed action is motivated by dollars, not in the best interest of aviation. MDAD wants to sell mining rights to the mineral deposits (lime-rock aggregate) beneath the airport and use the proceeds to pay for numerous projects, including several road programs at Miami International Airport ($81 million); "modernizing" the MIA terminal ($50 million); and extending runways at Miami Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport (TMB) and Homestead General Airport (X51) for jet operations ($23 million).

Many in South Florida's general and recreational aviation community disagree with MDAD's assessment that the airport is no longer necessary. Opa-Locka West is the only uncontrolled primary training facility for both general and sport aviation pilots in the north end of Miami-Dade County. The facility is safely located far from major residential areas, and the local aviation community also holds events there, like EAA Ultralight Chapter 71's (South Florida Fun Flyers) annual fly-in events.

"One of EAA's core values is to seek the continued availability and access to general/recreational aviation facilities," said Randy Hansen, EAA government relations director. "It is very disturbing to EAA when a major aviation management group like MDAD ignores the very grassroots aviation activities that create today's, and tomorrow's cadre of professional pilots. Without facilities like Opa-Locka West, the national pilot development program and their access to flight activities are put at risk."

In this specific case, MDAD is fully aware of the recreational fly-in and other activities at X46, yet has made no plans to accommodate this activity at any of their other airports. "It is one thing to say the other airports in the MDAD system will be able to accept the displaced capacity (takeoffs and landing), yet it is entirely different to develop a plan in concert with the fly-in organizers to allow these critical grassroots activities to continue," Hansen added. "An FAA study of other area airports will clearly show that their existing corporate, flight school, and other general aviation operations will severely restrict or effectively prohibit fly-ins by EAA chapters whose members and visitors fly light-sport aircraft and/or ultralight vehicles (weight-shift control, powered parachutes, paragliders, etc.).

"EAA fails to see how this action will improve the airport access or meet the aviation industry needs of all the recreational aviation flight activities that will be offset by the proposed MDAD request," Hansen added.

Hansen also noted that MDAD has not allocated a single dollar it expects to generate from the mining rights sale for general/recreational aviation hangar development, or light-sport aircraft/ultralight vehicle runway development. "Another sign that general/recreation aviation is being overlooked by MDAD."

As a result, EAA has also asked the FAA to initiate a feasibility study to determine if the Opa-Locka West airport could be converted into a public-use light-sport airpark, per the guidelines outlined in the ASTM International FAA/Industry Consensus Standards F37, design F2507-05.

In their argument for preserving the airport, the Opa-Locka Airport Association contends that closing the airport would leave north Dade and south Broward counties with no light-training north-south runway, as 18/36 at Opa-Locka (OPF) remains closed because a temporary tower is located next to the runway. The airport association has asked the FAA to inspect X46 and hold public hearings before making a decision.

At least four EAA chapters would be impacted by closure: Ultralight chapters 71 and 103, and EAA chapters 37 and 133. This is the only public use, nontowered airport in north Miami-Dade County, but pilots in Broward County would also be impacted since the airport sits on the county line between Miami Dade and Broward County.

Users from several towered airports, including Opa Locka, Hollywood North Perry, and Kendall Tamiamim, use Opa-Locka West for touch-and-go training operations.

EAA Ultralight Chapter 71 has contributed several hundred ultralight operations per year, but these numbers are not indicated on the form MDAD submitted to the FAA, nor are helicopter operations that occur there.

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