Friday, September 07, 2012

Gnoss Field Airport (KDVO), Novato, California: Pilots push for a runway extension

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Facing Gnoss Field’s runway, the 1968 Beech Bonanza V35ATC six-seater increased in speed and lifted off the ground, rising in altitude through a beautiful Marin skyline August 29.  Within minutes the plane overlooked Alcatraz, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, which was blanketed in thick fog. The turquoise bay mirrored the landscape until hitting the Marin coastline, which too was engulfed by fog. 

 Pilot Bruce Wold circled the Bay, pointing to various iconic landmarks along the way. Wold fell in love with aviation as a teenager, admitting that time in the sky is like no other.

“It’s a very satisfying combination — an intellectual and emotional experience,” Wold said. “It’s constantly changing, and it’s challenging; but it keeps me coming back.”

Wold has utilized Gnoss Field for the last seven years and is hopeful that plans to extend the north end of the runway by 1,100 feet will be completed.

Wold is also the vice-president of the Gnoss Field Community Association, a five-year-old organization made up of pilots and supporters of Gnoss Field. One of the organization’s hot topics is the runway extension project, which the group says will provide significant benefits to the residents of Bahia, Rush Creek and other nearby communities, as well as pilots.

“The extension would put us 3,000-4,000 feet away from their homes,” Wold said. “People hear that Gnoss Field wants to expand, and they assume that means we’re having new facilities and capabilities. That’s not true.”

After the extension is complete, neighbors will be subject to less noise because takeoffs will start 1,100 feet farther away, Wold said.

The ”13/31” runway was named because it has a heading of approximately 130 degrees for southeast departures and 310 degrees for northwesterly departures. An aircraft’s takeoff or landing point is dictated by wind — landing into or taking off into the wind is almost always the case.

“For safety, flying around the towers almost always happens on the side closest to [homes], GFCA President Mark Sheron said.

The KCBS towers restrict left turns from takeoff point and force aircraft to be closer to homes and newly created marshland as of today, Wold said.

Aircraft turning north of the KCBS towers from the proposed takeoff point will also be 2,000 feet farther away from homes.

“The inescapable conclusion seems to be that if the aircraft using Gnoss are flying farther away from homes, noise will be reduced and safety enhanced,” Sheron said. “Having started farther away, the aircraft will also be higher and thus able to reduce power earlier, added factors contributing to sound reduction. Quieter and safer operations are clear benefits for our neighbors.”

An environmental impact report, a necessary hurdle in the runway’s future, was cleared and released to the public in February.

“A bonus for environmentalists and pilots is that aircraft noise will also be farther away from the marsh restoration area and the birds inhabiting the marsh land,” GFCA said. “Safety is enhanced when birds and airplanes have less opportunity for close encounters.”

“The birds in the newly completed marsh restoration area would likely appreciate traffic and noise moving farther away from them,” Sheron said.

Gnoss Field, officially titled Marin County Airport, was built in 1939 and has only one runway, 3,300 feet long and 75 feet wide. The county purchased the airfield in 1965 and paved it three years later. It serves approximately 95,000 takeoffs and landings a year, according the Marin County Community Development Agency.

In 1930 Marin County sold 730 acres, where Hamilton Air Force Base was eventually built, to the United States government for $1 million. Marin County acquired the land for $135,000 with the sole purpose of getting the government to build an air base. Hamilton was active until 1976 when it was decommissioned as an Air Force Base, Wold said.

“For many years there had been debates as to where to locate a real airport for Marin,” Wold said. “One commission studying the issue proposed in 1954 that there be an airport built in Corte Madera. Eventually, Novato was proposed as the site. Due to financial constraints, only one runway was built and it was built shorter than originally designed.”

Residents have expressed concern over the potential for increased airport use, with larger aircraft and commercial airliners, if the extension is completed.

“The increase in runway length will be nowhere near what airlines would need, nor would the current and planned 75-foot width of the runway be sufficient,” Wold said. “There will be no commercial aviation.”

“The runway, even at its extended length, would be too short and too narrow to handle aircraft big enough to carry more than 10 passengers,” Sheron said.

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