Thursday, February 07, 2013

Santa Maria Public Airport (KSMX), California: Local traffic controllers and pilots take a last stand against changes

Santa Maria Public Airport traffic controllers and pilots who oppose upcoming taxiway name changes are going to make one last stand before the new designations take effect in March.

California Pilots Association Vice President Mitch Latting held individual meetings with each of the board members from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1 to show them an alternative to the design already approved by both the airport board and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Latting’s plan is to bring the subject before the board one more time at its meeting on Feb. 14. He wants the board to overturn its original decision and go with an alternative design created by the airport’s tower chief, Jim Jones.

“It’s important to the safety of all the pilots,” Latting said.

Air traffic controllers and area pilots feel that the approved changes will create confusion that could lead to accidents on the runways. The biggest reason Latting gives is having some taxiways with four different names.

Each time a taxiway crosses a runway or another taxiway, the designation will change. Jones said that rule essentially takes one taxiway and turns it into four.

“It’s making a simple thing complicated,” he said.

Latting and Jones both spoke in opposition to the changes at the airport’s last board meeting on Jan. 24.

Airport director Chris Hastert addressed their concerns at the meeting. He said an airport-design consulting firm helped design the new taxiway names to align with recent FAA guideline changes as part of the larger Santa Maria runway expansion project.

In an e-mail to the Sun, FAA Pacific Division public affairs manager Ian Gregor wrote that the airport is making the changes based on FAA recommendations.

“We revised our airfield signage guidance to make airfield signage more logical,” Gregor said. “The guidance provides for more consistent taxiway labeling.”

He said that as airports remodel or make changes, the FAA is asking them to also update their signage.

The airport expansion project added 1,800 feet of runway to the airport’s main runway so Santa Maria could accommodate larger airplanes. Although the project isn’t yet complete, the runway itself was approved for use in May 2012. The FAA is funding about 95 percent of the project, which has cost $10.8 million so far and is projected to reach almost $12 million before it’s completed.

Latting said that while he understands the airport’s need to follow FAA guidelines, he believes the changes should have been approved by Santa Maria’s air traffic controllers first.

“You don’t cross the runway until they tell you to,” Latting said. “Day in, day out, they control that traffic safely.”


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