Thursday, July 10, 2014

New signage helping keep visitors safer: Hannibal Regional Airport (KHAE), Missouri

Hannibal is a community known for rolling out the “welcome mat” for visitors. But until recently, some “guests” to city property were putting life and limb at risk by wandering into unauthorized areas.

In recent months, Hannibal Regional Airport had been experiencing a growing problem with people and their vehicles venturing onto the tarmac, an area typically reserved for planes to either park or taxi to the runway.

At the June meeting of the Airport Advisory Board, Greg Baugher shared a story of how his father, Vance Baugher, was taxiing his plane when he had to stop quickly because a vehicle, driven by an airport visitor, pulled in front of him.

“He had to shut down his plane, get out and ask them to move,” said Greg Baugher, adding that his father was told by the vehicle’s driver that he thought the area was a parking lot.

Robin Carroll, the airport’s fixed base operator, has reported that unauthorized vehicles were frequently seen driving on the tarmac.

“We always assume that planes will avoid them (non-aviation traffic), but when you’re in a plane you may not see them,” she said. “It’s generally people just gawking, wanting to see what’s going on.”

George Walley, chairman of the airport board, shared of encountering a woman seated on a couch inside the terminal one day. The female, who had driven across the tarmac and parked her car in an area typically used by planes, told Walley she had come out on a whim just to “see the airport.”

Carroll stressed that while visitors are welcome at the airport, the safety of visitors and pilots alike are of primary concern.

“We want people to come see the airport and park and watch the airplanes, but not unattended,” she said. “We don’t want them hitting a plane or causing a problem for pilots.”

Part of the problem is that the airport’s south gate, located adjacent to County Road 425, isn’t being closed like it should be.

“We know some pilots are leaving the gate open,” said Carroll last month, adding that many pilots she’s talked to favor a motorized gate system that would require a special card to open and would automatically close once a vehicle has entered or exited airport property.

Dick Rupp, a member of the airport board, is not surprised the south gate is the access point for so many of the airport’s unauthorized vehicles.

“For many years that was the entrance to the airport,” he said. “But that’s been so many years ago that those people would be gone.”

An assortment of options have been kicked around to curb the problem, ranging from having police issue tickets to all unauthorized motorists caught driving on the tarmac, to painting a warning on the edge of the concrete tarmac advising unauthorized drivers not to proceed.

Ultimately, new signs were made and installed which feature a stop sign and an advisory message to not proceed unless authorized. The signs, created by the Street Department, are hung next to gates so they will be more readily seen by motorists.

During Wednesday’s Airport Advisory Board meeting, Carroll reported the new signs have “really helped with people driving out on the apron.”

Carroll said the new signs were noted during last month’s visit by inspectors from the Transportation Security Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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