Saturday, February 28, 2015

Concerns about air traffic safety are heightened in developing College Park, Maryland

Kurt Schneckenburger, who flies his plane out of the College Park Airport about once a week, says the construction of tall buildings near the end of the runway would create safety issues. “If you keep adding buildings out there, you’ll build a wall.” 
(Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

Construction of tall buildings is encroaching on the airspace of historic College Park Airport, forcing pilots to adjust landing and takeoff strategies and raising concerns among some in this Maryland community that continued development could threaten the viability of a small airpark that was used by the Wright brothers and is home to many aviation firsts.

Pilots already navigate around a 16-story student apartment complex just less than a mile away on a straight shot from the runway. But plans to add more and taller buildings have those who regularly use the airport worried about maintaining its historic feel as well as safety.

“If you keep adding buildings out there, you’ll build a wall,” said Kurt Schneckenburger, who first flew from College Park in 1986, when Metrorail did not run near the edge of the runway and car dealerships and one-story shops made up most of the city’s commercial district.

The December tragedy in which a private jet crashed into a four-bedroom home near the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, killing six people, also has pushed the debate over density and building heights to the forefront.

“You see all this construction happening . . . and that’s fine. We just don’t want tall buildings at the end of the runway,” said ­Schneckenburger, 57, who flies his 1972 Piper PA-28 Cherokee about once a week. “This is a safety issue.”

That’s why a recent proposal for a 13-story luxury hotel less than a mile from the airport had Schneckenburger and others concerned.

The Southern Management hotel project became caught up in the debate late last year when it sought approval from the Prince George’s County planning board. The Federal Aviation Administration warned that the hotel would be a potential hazard to air navigation, prompting the developer to drop three floors from its design and raising the project’s $115 million cost by $5 million.

Although the revised project appears to comply with FAA regulations, it has ignited demands for better enforcement of building height limits around the 66-acre airport, nestled between Lake Artemesia and an industrial area adjacent to the College Park Metro station, off Paint Branch Parkway.

“This seems to be the tip of the iceberg with more and more obstructions being proposed without much consideration to the airport,” Kyle Lowe said in an e-mail to the FAA in October. Lowe is a division chief in the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the airport.

A University of Maryland dormitory, built last year, encroaches on about seven feet of airspace, and a bioengineering building now under construction encroaches on about four feet, according to the FAA.

The FAA sets height restrictions based on a structure’s proximity to an airport and flight paths. State and local governments also set height guidelines for buildings near airports.

But rulings by the FAA and state agencies — in this case, the Maryland Aviation Administration — serve only as advisories. Local zoning authorities determine whether to allow building permits. Projects built on U-Md. property are not required to go through the local zoning process.

And even in cases where projects exceed local restrictions, developers can get around the limits by requesting variances.

U-Md. officials say they do not take the FAA’s and MAA’s recommendations lightly. In the case of the Prince Frederick Hall dorm built last year, the university added special markings and lighting to mitigate the potential hazard. And it plans to do the same with the bioengineering building, which the university says is actually shorter and farther from the airport than the University View complex, officials said.

“My understanding is that the four feet is not going to pose any problems,” university spokesman Brian Ullman said. “Believe it or not, the issue might be addressed simply by adding some lighting.”

Effects of height limits

Some experts say that height limits hamper developers’ ability to get the most out of their investments. Critics say the restrictions end up costing communities millions in tax revenue — and, ultimately, billions in economic growth. The wait for an FAA review alone can be costly and can disrupt a project’s timeline.

John Cohan, director of marketing for Southern Management, said the company had not anticipated having to deal with airport restrictions when it began pursuing its hotel project as part of a deal with U-Md. When it was notified about the 35-foot airspace intrusion in November, it was already in the last step of local approvals. The company was ready to proceed with construction — in fact, it received a permit last month to begin site preparation work.

“Instead of pushing back and trying to fight for the original plan, we redesigned it,” Cohan said. That process has already set the project’s timeline back a few months, threatening the plans for a 2016 opening, he said. “It’s been a significant cost — in the millions. A significant part of that is in the lost time.”

The 16-story University View apartment complex, built in 2005, is an example of what can happen if height restrictions aren’t enforced, some say. The building, the tallest in College Park, was determined to be an obstruction by aviation standards, but because it was planned before the county passed airport zoning regulations in 2002, the project moved through the approval process without much scrutiny.

Today, the complex juts out from a buffer of woods, visible from the front of the airport’s runway. Some pilots say that when they pass over the complex on final approach, they come so close to the building that they can wave at people on the roof.

“If you speak with the pilots, they say, ‘We have to work around that building, and it is not ideal.’ And the more buildings that go up like that, even if they are not that tall, but if they penetrate the airspace, then it is a problem for them,” said Terry Schum, College Park’s planning director.

Encroachment on airspace at general aviation airports is not a new problem, nor is the rapid growth that has swallowed up the communities surrounding small, semirural airparks across the United States.

These airports are viewed not only as part of an extensive network, but also as important economic and societal contributors to their communities. In some cases, they support medical, emergency and law enforcement flights and provide access to remote communities.

But most were built long before the communities that surround them and now are struggling to balance the needs of both.

In Orlando, for example, officials studying why the city does not have a distinctive skyline are faced with the reality that its downtown is too close to Orlando Executive Airport. Several projects that would have helped define the skyline, including plans for a nearly 500-foot tower, have been scrapped over the years.

The problem in places such as College Park, some pilots and airport officials say, is that airports have been excluded from the planning process and development has taken off without much consideration given to their operations. In some cases, development pressures have played a role in the closure of small airfields around the United States.

“I understand the developers’ concerns that if they can’t get to a certain height, they can’t get a good return on their investment. At the same time, having taller buildings around the airport really does make it more difficult for pilots to get in and out of the airport,” said John Collins, manager of airport policy at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The group, which has about 370,000 members, hears about airport encroachment issues a couple of times a week, he said.

In College Park, the airport’s historical significance may be the reason it’s been able to survive. Founded in 1909, the facility is home to many aviation firsts: It saw the first female airplane passenger, the first U.S. helicopter flights and it was the terminus for the first airmail routes. The Wright brothers trained the country’s first military pilots there.

“That’s not something to take lightly,” said Andrea Cochrane Tracey, director of the College Park Aviation Museum, which is on airport property and displays aircraft and artifacts from the airfield’s history, which covers more than a century.

The county-owned airpark is building a $4.5 million, 13,000-square-foot terminal that will be connected to the museum.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks, the airport lost business — activity fell from about 18,000 flight operations a year and nearly 100 aircraft based there to about 4,122 flight operations a year and 47 aircraft. But airport officials say the potential for growth is good given the proximity to the District and access to Metro, both of which make the airport attractive for business travelers, including members of Congress.

Ensuring the right development around the facility is key to making that happen, officials say. That’s why the height debate, Lowe said, is not about a particular project but ensuring that current and future development take those restrictions seriously.

“We are not trying to get in the way of economic development,” Lowe said. “We are trying to make sure that we are able to balance the needs of the development community with the airport operations. . . . We want to make sure that we have an airport that is viable and that is safe for the pilots and the public.”

The city says that’s also its goal. Long-term plans for the Route 1 corridor recognize the airport’s value and call for future development to respect the height restrictions around the airfield and to ensure it does not threaten its continued existence, officials said.

But finding a balance has turned out to be more challenging as the city focuses on drawing development to its downtown and the College Park Metro station, which is almost directly across from the airfield. The county, which sets zoning policy, has a new plan supporting buildings of up to 12 stories around the College Park Metro. The city has concerns, saying eight stories would be adequate given the Metro station’s proximity to the airport.

“There is plenty of development density that you can get without having 10-story buildings,” Schum said. “You build compactly, you build mid-rise buildings or townhouses, and that is appropriate around the Metro station. We don’t need towers to get the density.”

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Spat, intrigue over $4.5 million jet leads to arrest of Venezuelan businessman

MIAMI —   A Gulfstream jet currently parked at Miami Executive Airport appears to boast a colorful past: It was reputedly once owned by the bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia.

The sleek aircraft is now at the heart of another tale of international intrigue  ... a well-heeled fugitive from Venezuela is now under arrest in Miami accused of stealing the $4.5 million jet from a former business partner.

The suspect is Jose Avelino Goncalves of Doral, who claims he is seeking political asylum in the United States. The 49-year-old made his first appearance in a Miami-Dade court Friday, charged with a host of felony white-collar crimes, including organized scheme to defraud and grand theft.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade police have taken control of the 22-seat, two-engine jet parked at the West Kendall airport.

"This is simply a misunderstanding between two business associates," David Fernandez, Goncalves' defense attorney, told the court on Friday. "There is nothing nefarious here."

A Miami-Dade judge nevertheless left intact a $4.5 million bond.

"He can flee the country," said Miami-Dade prosecutor Manolo Reboso.

The victim is businessman Luis Enrique Nunez-Villanueva, a former slot-machine owner who used to partner with Goncalves and his brother in Venezuela in the casino business.

Nunez-Villanueva's team of lawyers - Frank Quesada, John Priovolos and Carl Kakfa - watched from court as prosecutors explained the charges to the judge.

The two businessmen are suing each other in Miami-Dade court. Goncalves claims Nunez-Villanueva pocketed $828,129 meant to buy a helicopter. Nunez-Villanueva denies the allegations and demands his money for the jet.

Over the years, the plane has had a series of owners. According to the aviation database, the jet was owned by Texas businessman James Bath. He was a former business associate of George W. Bush, who later became president.

According to numerous books, Bath was also affiliated with the wealthy bin Laden oil family whose most notorious member, Osama, masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The plane was later sold to the bin Ladens in 1980, changing owners and registration numbers several times after that. Ultimately, records show, Nunez-Villanueva bought the plane in 2009.

Because foreigners cannot legally own planes in the United States, he created a Delaware company to be the owner, which is a common business practice. Then in October 2010, court records show, Nunez-Villanueva agreed to sell the plane to Goncalves for $4.5 million.

Gonzcalves and his brother, Domingo Goncalves, ran gaming parlors throughout Venezeula. According to Venezuelan news accounts, Domingo was arrested several years ago for running illegal gambling operations and also helped fund opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles in 2012.

His brother, Jose Goncalves, fled to Miami. Prosecutors confirmed that the international police agency Interpol lists a "red notice" for him - meaning, he is wanted for arrest in Venezuela. He is also a citizen of Portugal.

"Neither one of those countries is safe for him," Fernandez, his attorney, told the judge Friday. "He's in this country because he's been politically persecuted in another country."

The deal between Goncalves and Nunez-Villanueva called for an upfront payment of $1.5 million, and monthly payments of $500,000 afterward.

But Miami-Dade detectives say Goncalves paid only $829,196, and never made another payment. In the following months, Goncalves without Nunez-Villanueva's permission transferred the title of the plane three times.

A business associate, Miguel Rodriguez-Fambona, told detectives that he agreed to create a company in his name to hold ownership of the plane for Goncalves. The reason: Goncalves, wanted in Venezuela, did not want any assets in his names, according to the warrant.

Rodriguez-Fambona, the owner of CR Aviation at the small airport, never charged his buddy anything to store the plane in his hangar.

Last year, Goncalves transferred the title of the plane to a Venezuelan company called Feed Mix Industries - run by a well-known pilot named Andres Guillermo Schrocci Mendoza.

The plane was transferred to one more company last year. Prosecutors said Goncalves, in trying to hide his money, also transferred properties and companies into the names of his wife and children.

Original article can be found at:

Incident occurred February 28, 2015 at Dane County Regional Airport (KMSN), Madison, Wisconsin

MADISON (WKOW) -- A general aviation plane suffered a landing gear failure upon touchdown at Dane County Regional Airport late Saturday morning. 

The two-engine turbo prop Cessna Conquest was manned by a single pilot, when the front nose gear collapsed while landing on an auxiliary runway shortly before noon.

Airport officials say the pilot alerted air traffic control of a possible landing gear problem at 11:34 AM, while approaching the airport.  The primary runway remained open during the incident.

No major injuries were reported.  The Madison Fire Department transported the pilot to a local hospital, on a precautionary basis. 

To learn more about the Cessna Conquest aircraft, please click here.

Original article can be found at:

Letter: Airport rent hikes shouldn’t fly • Santa Monica Municipal (KSMO), California


I find it quite disturbing that we have an airport commission that is anti-airport and would have the gall to suggest raising the rents on the people that conduct all kinds of business there, especially in these tough times.

They praise the diversity of cultural arts in Santa Monica yet are quite the hypocrites, encouraging the strangulation of the art community, theater arts group, restaurants and small businesses that inhabit the Santa Monica airport.

The fact is that none of the four airport commissioners appointed by the Santa Monica City Council are pilots, know how an airplane functions or even have any flying experience except for traveling in an aircraft.

It is interesting that David Goddard and Steve Marks, who both live in the Sunset Park area, have real estate licenses and want the airport closed down. Postulating this thought, it’s easy to see what they would gain by this using their positions as airport commissioners. A conflict of interest indeed.

Years ago, we had a no-jets policy enforced with large, stenciled white letters on the East-West 23 runway. Mysteriously, these letters were removed and jets were allowed back in which overpriced landing, takeoff and storage fees were charged and collected by the city. One has to ask the question: Who were the City Council members that allowed this, and what terms did they hold?

As for the people who complain about the airport and who bought homes in the area, you knew that there was an airport there. As a matter of fact, it’s been there since 1917.

So, let me get this straight: You purchase a home where you know there’s an airport, yet you now have myriad complaints because the airport is there — fully aware when you bought your home it was an airport. Even Dr. Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu would have a hard time with this one.

Whitney Scott Bain
Santa Monica

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New jet fuel truck, aircraft hangars taking wing at Ottawa Municipal Airport (KOWI), Kansas

Courtesy of the City of Ottawa
A jet fuel truck (pictured in background) is a recent addition to the Ottawa Municipal Airport, 2178 Montana Road. The City of Ottawa purchased the truck for $16,000 from the City of Newton. Adding Jet A fuel should attract more planes to the airport and increase revenues, city officials said.

A readily available Jet A fuel supply and the promise of more storage space for private aircraft are just some of the improvements taking flight at Ottawa Municipal Airport this year.

Did you know?

Established in: Mid-1940s (construction began in 1944 and was completed after the conclusion of World War II)

Fixed-base operator: OWI Aviation LLC, a management company owned by Hawkeye Helicopter LLC, 401 S. Main St., Ottawa

Address: 2178 Montana Road, three miles southeast of Ottawa

Story and photo:

Kenneth B. Spindler

Kenneth B. Spindler, 76, of Williamstown, W.Va., died Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, at the VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, W.Va.

He was born March 19, 1938, in Marietta to Kenneth and Marcina Phares Spindler.

Kenneth was a graduate of Marietta High School and attended Marietta College. He was a U.S. Navy veteran of Vietnam, having served aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. He had worked as laboratory analyst at both Union Carbide Plastics and Shell Chemicals. He had been an ATP corporate pilot and a certified flight instructor for Mountainair and Rambar Aviation, as well as being employed as a pilot for Pizza People in Marietta.

In retirement, Ken had been a driving instructor for AAA and a volunteer mission pilot for the Civil Air Patrol. 

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