Friday, May 16, 2014

Midland International Airport (KMAF) to have assessment approval in 30 days; Federal Aviation Administration decision on Midland spaceport license still due by Sept. 15

Midland International Airport continues on its mission to obtain a spaceport license by Sept. 15 by passing a 30-day public comment period with no objections and solving a minor hiccup caused by the lesser prairie chicken’s threatened status.

At Thursday’s Spaceport Development Corp. meeting, Director of Airports Marv Esterly said the next step in the spaceport license process is the Federal Aviation Administration’s “finding of no significant impact,” which is the final approval of the environmental assessment for the spaceport, expected to be passed in 30 days.

But one minor threat, what Esterly called a “small glitch,” was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing in March of the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened,” after the airport drafted its environmental assessment. Esterly said the airport contacted FWS and submitted information to the agency that explained the spaceport wouldn’t have any effect on the bird.

The airport will receive a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approving the information submitted and attach it to the environmental assessment, Esterly said.

The spaceport license is still slated for Sept. 15, but can be approved anytime after the environmental assessment’s final approval. Esterly said the airport has been coordinating with the FAA for the last 1 1/2 years and   that there is nothing new in the spaceport application that the agency doesn’t already know.

“There’s no indication or anything out there that says that we haven’t done everything that we needed to do,” Esterly said. “We proved everything we needed to prove.”

If approved, Midland’s spaceport would be the first spaceport at a commercial airport in the country. Midland International would be both a “Part 139” and “Part 420” airport, per FAA regulations.

“As the future of travel starts to progress toward space travel, this uniquely positions Midland to take advantage of that,” said John Love III, Midland Spaceport Development Corp. president.

In other Spaceport Development Corp. news, the corporation received a presentation from Denver-based law firm Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell about the city’s legal obligation to prevent certain development from happening around the proposed spaceport.

In order for the spaceport to be in operation, the city has to ensure safe overflight of property around the airport, exercise land use authority to protect against encroachment on and near the airport and ensure compatible land use, according to the presentation.

The most common way for the city to meet its obligations is to adopt special zoning rules for the land around the airport, which spans five miles from the end of each runway and 1 1/2 miles from the centerline of each runway. Any development that is associated with high-pedestrian density, such as retail and housing, may be prohibited in the area, as previously reported.

Love said if a developer plans to build around the airport, it will have to explain to the Planning and Zoning Commission how the development will impact the area.