Fools and Airports

An article got me thinking, again. The first paragraph is,

The house went up in 1982, the growing family moved in 23 years later, and the airplane crashed into it a week ago. All the while, the airport had been just down the road.

and the fifth is,

“Yes, the airpark was there first, but now we’re here, too, and this is dangerous,” said Becky Trupp, who moved this year to the Hunters Woods development where the plane crashed. “We have to find a way to coexist, and if we can’t coexist, I think that the safety of a community should take precedence over a hobby.”

I’ve owned a house in Montgomery County, Maryland. In fact, I used to eat at a Greek restaurant between the crash site and the airport.

When you make an offer on a house in Montgomery County, you have to sign off on all kinds of disclosures. I remember discussing with our realtor half seriously if someone was likely to build a rendering plant behind one home we looked at. Also in the list of disclosures is a list of aviation facilities within a certain radius. We never looked at any homes under landing patterns for airports, so I don’t know how explicit the disclosures have to sign are. (“Yes, I know we’ll have small planes, many flown by student pilots, flying over the house several times a day on the weekends.”)

I have no sympathy for Mrs. Trupp. I have some sympathy for the mother and children killed in the crash, but it was a risk the parents accepted when the bought the house, presumably at a mild discount compared to similar homes, because of its proximity to the small airport.

I also find it disingenuous to assert that safety should take precedence “over a hobby.” While many of the flights that worry Mrs. Tripp are hobbyists’ flights, the fatal crash this past week was flown by a businessman from North Carolina. He wasn’t a new pilot; he was commercial-rated and a flight instructor himself. He wasn’t out flying to an airport for the heck of it; he was flying to Maryland for a meeting with the government. Short of a fifty-year project to rebuild passenger railroads in America (and make the world leaders in sustained speed), business men in North Carolina and elsewhere will always have a reason to fly to the DC region, so there will always need to be relief airports in the distant suburbs to support the non-airline traffic.

I have mixed feelings about aviation, partly because it’s a huge consumer of oil. However, we can’t just wave our hands and make it go away; our economy and way of life have come to take it for granted. Therefore, we can’t get rid of airports. They tried siting a small airport in the middle of nowhere; Gaithersburg expanded to encroach upon it. They built Dulles International Airport in the middle of nowhere in Virginia; homes and businesses sprouted up around it. People would yell and scream if someone sited a new airport in Rockville and decided to evacuate a five mile radius around the field in the name of safety; they’d shout that they were there first. Well, it’s the airport who was there first near Stouffer’s School Road.

I hope they determine the cause of the crash. Maybe there’s something that can be done to prevent a recurrence, regardless of where airports are sited. But if property owners around that or any other airport start trying to evict a pre-existing airport, I’ll always side with the existing structure. A compromise would be fine, but the burden is upon the people who moved in later, not the airport that was there first, sited there precisely to be out of the way.

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