Monday, December 15, 2014

Editorial: Airports, houses need a little space between them

The tragedy near Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Md., last week should be a teachable moment for those trying to figure out how to make airports and housing developments coexist.

A jet crashed into a neighborhood, killing all three people onboard plus a mother and her two young sons in their home. The plane was approaching the airport, about a mile away.

Just below that story on Page A1 of the Dec. 9 Free Lance-Star was another story, on a proposal to build a housing development in Stafford County. The development, to be called George Washington Village, could include almost 3,000 homes. The property is west of the interchange of I–95 and Courthouse Road.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the proposal is this: Some of the land would come within 2,500 feet of the center of the Stafford Regional Airport runway. Some of the homes would be under a northern flight pattern that could be in operation in the next couple of years.

Those homes would be about half as far to the center of the airport as the home in Montgomery County that was destroyed by an errant jet.

The development, if approved, would be a 20-year project. Who knows how large Stafford’s airport will be by then? It seems to be a goal of the county to make it grow.

Stafford turned down another housing development, Oakenwold, earlier this fall. That one was considerably smaller than this plan. It would have brought about 650 new homes to the county. That development, at its closest point, would have been 3,600 feet from the center of the Stafford Regional runway, nearly a time and a half as far away as the closest homes in the proposed George Washington development.

The county obviously wants the airport to succeed. Stafford Regional opened in 2001 and was seen as a “relief airport” to reduce air traffic over Washington. Virginia Speaker of the House Bill Howell called it a “tourism gateway” for the county. Stafford cut personal property tax on aircraft from $3 per $100 to 1 cent per $100 in 2009 to make it more attractive.

The airport still isn’t bringing in a lot of traffic. It is under-used. If it really is going to be what Stafford hopes it can be, though, growth is inevitable. Even without growth, approving housing half a mile from the center of the airport sounds like a bad idea. We thought Oakenwold would have been a mistake. This development seems to make less sense than Oakenwold.

As the people in Maryland’s Montgomery County might tell you, airports and housing developments need a little space between them.


NTSB Identification: DCA15MA029
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, December 08, 2014 in Gaithersburg, MD
Aircraft: EMBRAER EMB-500, registration: N100EQ
Injuries: 6 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On December 8, 2014, about 1041 Eastern Standard Time (EST), an Embraer EMB-500 Phenom 100, N100EQ, impacted terrain and houses about 0.75 miles short of runway 14 while on approach to Montgomery County Airpark (GAI), Gaithersburg, Maryland. The airline transport rated pilot and two passengers were fatally injured as well as three persons on the ground. The airplane was destroyed during the impact and ensuing fire. Marginal visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and the flight was operating on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. The airplane was registered to and operated by Sage Aviation LLC., of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. The flight originated from Horace Williams Airport (IGX), Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with GAI as its intended destination.

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