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Fri, Nov 14, 2003

Airport Opponents Target Scottsdale (AZ)

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go To The Airport

John Hoeppner thinks he can do it. He tells the Arizona Republic the "ground is fertile" for a public vote to close Scottsdale Airport (AZ). Just when you were ready to breathe a big sigh of relief after voters overwhelmingly decided to keep Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg (FL), another battle looms on the horizon.

Hoeppner is the former leader of Quiet Skies, an anti-airport organization that sued the FAA (unsucessfully) over the Northwest 2000 Plan. The plan rerouted commercial air traffic into and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor. He's now lining up with another airport opponent, Nick Luongo of Scottsdale, who says he's tired of trying to work with the city council on aircraft noise issues and now wants the voters to decide -- should Scottsdale Airport be forever closed?

"If the right people get involved in this thing, then the Scottsdale council will have something to contend with," said Hoeppner.

But not everyone agrees. Scottsdale Councilman Bob Littlefield says, "This is the same guy who said they'd win the lawsuit (over Northwest 2000) too. Closing the airport is nuts. And Littlefield points to the facts.

About 250,000 people live in Scottsdale. Of those, only 272 filed aircraft noise complaints last year.  But it's not that easy. Hoeppner says a lot of the same people involved in the Northwest 2000 suit are circulating a petition to close the Scottsdale Airport. The two issues are related. Luongo says noise from aircraft wasn't a problem until the Northwest 2000 plan was implemented. Under the plan, corporate jets have been forced to fly lower in certain areas to accomodate the commercial traffic into and out of Sky Harbor.

"That's a crock," says Littlefield, in an interview with the Republic. "If we get rid of the corporate jets, he'd be complaining about the Cessna 172s."

But Luongo goes even further. He says his life is threatened by the corporate jets flying overhead. He lives about two miles south of the airport. "It's just a matter of time before a plane crashes on someone," he says. Luongo is circulating a petition with 16 reasons why the Scottsdale Airport should be shut down.

Luongo tries to make the argument that closing the airport would stimulate the economy. He says the surrounding business development, the Scottsdale Air Park, could be greatly expanded to cover the 226 acres now used for air operations. But aviation advocates say it isn't so.

Craig Morningstar is one of the founders of AZSNAP (Arizona Scottsdale Network Air Park). He says a lot of the corporations around the airport are there only because they can get in and out a lot faster than if they based their aircraft at Sky Harbor. If the airport goes, he says, then so goes the Air Park and with it, 40,000 jobs. Sure, things might be a bit quieter. Morningstar says the economic engine of Scottsdale would sputter and die.

There's another catch: Scottsdale could lose the Air Park altogether because of a deal made with the Seventh Day Adventist Church 40 years ago. The church sold the airport property to Scottsdale for $3 million back in 1963, on the condition that it be used as an airport and the church would always have access to the field. Break those conditions and the airport could revert back to the church. Then, as with Albert Whitted in Florida, airport opponents would have to deal with the state and the FAA, both of which have contributed money to the development and maintenance of Scottsdale Airport.

FMI: www.azsnap.com

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