Saturday, June 30, 2018

Federal Aviation Administration ended Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport (KPUJ) commercialization bid despite pledge to wait: director



Paulding’s airport director believes a federal agency acted in “bad faith” when it “closed the file” without notice this week on a five-year effort to become metro Atlanta's second facility offering commercial passenger airline service.

Silver Comet Field airport director Terry Tibbitts said the Federal Aviation Administration had not indicated in a March 29 letter it would end its 2016 pledge to “make no determination” on the commercial airport application until finalization of all litigation surrounding the plan.

However, the FAA said it ended consideration of Paulding’s airport for redesignation as a commercial facility after not receiving revisions it wanted on a required environmental assessment by a May 28 deadline. It also did not receive “any communication” from Paulding airport authority about it for three months.

The FAA said in a statement Friday it “terminated its consideration of the draft environmental assessment for projects at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport that would have supported commercial air carrier service.” 

“The agency also closed its file on the airport's application for an air carrier operating certificate," the FAA stated. "The agency took these actions at this time because the airport did not respond to a request for revisions to the draft (environmental assessment).”

In a Tuesday letter to Tibbitts, FAA Atlanta district manager Larry Clark said a completed assessment “was intended to support your application” for a commercial designation.

“Absent an environmental review, we cannot consider your application and deem your lack of interest in pursuing the (assessment) to constitute a voluntary withdrawal” of the commercialization application, Clark said.

Only nine of more than 100 public airports in Georgia are designated for commercial passenger service with the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson, the only one in metro Atlanta.

The FAA currently designates Paulding’s nine-year-old airport for general aviation usage only.

Silver Comet Field had 22 aircraft based at the west Paulding airport and averaged a total of 27 takeoffs and landings per day in 2017. By comparison, Cartersville’s airport averaged more than 100 takeoffs and landings and recorded 140 aircraft based there, according to airnav.com.

The Paulding County Airport Authority in 2012 sought to spur its development and quietly signed a contract with New York-based Propeller Airports to recruit a passenger airline and develop surrounding industrial land.

The following year, the authority asked the federal agency to change the airport’s designation to allow commercial passenger airlines to use it under Part 139 of FAA regulations.

Tibbitts said lawsuits from those opposed to the commercialization effort, including a group of six Paulding residents, have been ongoing since 2013.

He also referred to the Atlanta and Washington, D.C., law firms representing the Paulding residents which reportedly have funded the litigation efforts rather than the residents. Commercialization proponents have charged that Delta Airlines also was providing financial support.

“Our estimate ... is that we are years away from a final resolution of all litigation given that those opposed to the commercialization of this airport appear to have an unlimited budget for litigation to fight this expansion,” he said.

Tibbitts said Friday the FAA wanted 11 revisions made to a draft environmental assessment between late March and late May. That included data on recreational usage and animal populations on two acres of the adjoining Paulding Forest wildlife management area included in an area needed if the current runway is lengthened for commercial airliners.

He told FAA officials in a February letter that data on the section of the Atlanta-owned forest should not be included because the area does not meet the “spirit or the intent” of the federal regulations intended to protect such land adjacent to public transportation projects.

“We believe that the FAA acted in bad faith to force an impossible deadline on us and knowing our position, and followed up with immediate termination of the 139 application for reasons that only they can explain,” Tibbitts said Friday.


“Given that an environmental assessment is only valid for three years, and the data on this (assessment) is already over three years old, it would be an irresponsible expenditure of taxpayer money to continue to spend money on an environmental assessment that would almost certainly be obsolete prior to a decision being made to proceed by the FAA,” Tibbitts said Friday.

However, the FAA consulted with the city of Atlanta – which opposed Paulding’s commercialization effort – and Georgia Forestry Commission about the two acres and told the airport authority in a March 29 letter it wanted the forest data and 10 other revisions – mostly seeking updated information from the original draft released in 2015.

The FAA left it open to Paulding to resubmit a new application for commercial service. However, Tibbitts said he does not foresee the airport authority submitting the request because it would have to come jointly from both the authority and Paulding County Board of Commissioners which opposes the plan.

“Given the current board of commissioners’ position on commercialization, it is unlikely that we would have joint agreement on a refiling of the application,” he said Friday.

Atlanta attorney Anthony Cochran represents Propeller Airports-affiliated Silver Comet Terminal Partners which signed the 2012 agreement with the airport authority to recruit an airline.

Cochran said Silver Comet “remains deeply disappointed that the citizens of Paulding County continue to be injured economically for the benefit of outside special interests emanating from within the ‘perimeter.’

“With that said, Silver Comet remains confident that, in the end, common sense will prevail and Silver Comet will provide a tangible benefit to the entire Paulding County community,” he said.

Susan Wilkins, the most visible of the six Paulding residents which opposed the effort, said Friday, “After nearly five long years of dedicating my life to fighting commercialization, I feel both ecstatic and overwhelmed, and am not quite sure if I’m dreaming or not.”

“I think most of us feel that way right now,” she said.

She added she is working to support the re-elections of two commissioners, Todd Pownall and Tony Crowe, opposed to commercialization in the July 24 runoff elections to halt the possibility of a new application being filed.

Pownall said he was “very excited” about the news after being a vocal opponent of the commercialization plan for almost five years.

“A lot of folks have worked hard for this news,” Pownall said of the FAA’s action.

The airport is in Pownall’s district but he has said he was not told about commercialization plans until hearing about it on TV news in October 2013 -- a year after a contract was quietly signed and 18 months after it was first considered in mid-2012.

He said the commercialization plan was “one of the most divisive factors that have ever happened in Paulding County” and hoped residents can work together to help develop the airport without commercial passenger service.

The commercialization effort should have been organized with the same kind of transparency given to a project like the new county jail and sheriff’s office headquarters, which residents voted to approve in 2016 with $77 million in public funding, Pownall said.

“Not everyone may agree on it but the public voted on it,” he said.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.mdjonline.com

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