Sunday, April 22, 2012

Eagle's Nest Airport (W13): Waynesboro's residential airports 1 of 7 in Virginia

Inventor Ron Browne and neighbor Tony Dewald, right, stand around the front of Browne's airplane.

Airport manager John Trissel said airport dog, Lexie, is the queen of the airport lounge. The Eagle's Nest Airport community is home to a tight-knit community of mostly pilots who own airplanes.
 / Pat Jarrett/The News Leader

 Ron Browne's garage has a fabricating shop as well as his lawnmower and airplane.

Golfers live in golf communities because they love golfing, so it's no surprise pilots sometimes live on airports because they love flying. A dozen or so local pilots call Waynesboro's Eagle's Nest Airport home. Eagle's Nest is one of 600 residential airports nationwide; one of just seven in Virginia. Eagle's Nest might be a small airport, but it is a big part of the local economy.

The nation loses hundreds, if not thousands, of small, public use airports a year. Non-airline pilots, who by regulation have to remain current, in some cases drive 30 to 50 miles to get to a general aviation airport to rent an aircraft or access a personal one. Fuel prices — for your car and your airplane — are often prohibitive. A pilot might decide not to make the long drive for that reason.

Imagine, though, walking through your house, into the attached hangar, raising the door, hopping in your plane, and taxiing a few hundred feet to the runway for takeoff. It's every pilots' dream.

Eagle's Nest opened as a grass strip in 1954. The residential aspect of the airport began in 1990 when a residential airport developer purchased Eagle's Nest and began to sell lots. Currently, there are 12 homes with attached hangars, and the community is ready for up to 13 more. Future plans could include as many as 50 homes. The mix of residents now at Eagle's Nest include current and former airline pilots, retired engineers, and business people, but the underlying connection is they all love airplanes.

John Trissel, the airport manager, learned to fly there in 1968. As with most pilots, the place where you learn to fly remains special, and so it is with Trissel. After retiring from teaching, he came back to Eagle's Nest and made his home there. That commitment to his community deepened when he became the airport's manager several years ago.

Trissel's sense of community pride extends beyond the airport into the surrounding neighborhood — he wants the airport to be a good neighbor. "I come down pretty hard on the side of safety, perhaps more than others," he said. He is proud of the airport's zero fatality record since he became the manager. With an average of 100 operations a day on a good-weather weekend and 25 to 30 a day during the week, that's an impressive record. Trissel has also established noise abatement procedures for departing aircraft to help maintain good neighborly relations.

 "This airport has been part of the community for so long, we get great support from them," he said. Home buyers in the vicinity of the airport sign paperwork acknowledging they are aware of the airport. Trissel also provides them contact information so they can complain directly to him.

He indicates problems only occur when a transient pilot takes off and doesn't heed the noise abatement procedures. The FAA confirmed that no noise complaints have been filed with the district office, said FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac.

Trissel and other airport residents participate in several youth-oriented, aviation activities such as the Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles. Eagle's Nest also is the location for meetings of the Civil Air Patrol's Augusta Squadron, one of the oldest in the CAP's history.

Trissel has also increased the airport's business footprint in the community. Eagle's Nest is home to a flight school, a maintenance shop, a fuel farm, a glider school, and an aerial photography business. Nonresident pilots can hangar their aircraft there for a fee. "People have jobs," Trissel said, "because we're here."

According to a 2012 airport economic-impact study by the Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia's airports contribute just more than $1 billions annually to local economies. Eagle's Nest's share of that in the area is just under $1 million.

Tony Dewald has lived at Eagle's Nest for seven years, his second residential airport home. A regional representative for a hot tub company, Dewald sought out residential airports "to have a chance to do my hobby easily." The convenience, though, means he can use his Piper Arrow for occasional business travel.

"If you like to fish," Dewald explained, "you live on a lake. If you like to fly..."

Dewald chose Eagle's Nest when he was transferred from Minnesota because the price was reasonable and "the area, the mountains, are beautiful." Dewald doesn't plan on leaving Eagle's Nest and looks forward to engaging his two children in aviation there.

Pilot Ron Browne is one of Eagle's Nest's earliest residents. He had lived in Staunton before moving to California as part of his engineering business. He and his wife returned to the area to be closer to their grandchildren, but Browne had one stipulation: "Only if we could live on an airport!"

Browne had studied residential airports in California and found them too pricey. Eagle's Nest is perfect because, "You have a temperate climate here, and you're within three miles of every service you need — doctors, hospital, stores, they're all just a few minutes away." When he moved back to the area he looked at 60 or 70 airparks on the east coast, but only Eagle's Nest fit the bill. Not only the convenience of the local community, but the airport itself "has all the services and facilities you need, it's a quiet area, and you're surrounded by open space."

Moderate weather, convenient personal and aviation services, good community relations, and a great view have made Eagle's Nest Airport home to some area pilots.

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