Balance, Ideas, Action

Action on ACAT

The Airport Community Advisory Team (ACAT) is a six-person team whose members are appointed by the airport’s Board of Directors.

I was appointed to ACAT in 2018. My term was renewed unanimously by Board members present at the September, 2019 Board meeting. In early 2020, I was elected Chair of ACAT, which is the position I hold today.

Project Proposals

In my time on ACAT, I have introduced four projects to the team. I’m thankful that ACAT and our Airport Board have approved the projects for production.

Emergency Landing Guide

One day, while trying to think of a way to discourage pilots from using Runway 29 in calm winds, I got to thinking about why I chose to stop using it, whenever possible:

  • Runway 29 is the most community-annoying runway we have. It launches aircraft right over populated areas.
  • Runway 29 provides the fewest emergency landing options, if a single-engine plane loses its engine after takeoff.

It was that second point that gave me an idea: If we built a map that made clear that our best emergency landing options are not off Runway 29, single-engine pilots could see for themselves that Runway 29 is not always the best idea. (Single-engine refers to smaller aircraft, like Cessna trainers, that are powered by only a single engine and propeller.)

I took the proposal to ACAT, where it was unanimously approved. Airport staff, who were also solidly behind the project, conducted ground surveys, and took drone footage of the areas. We wrote narratives to describe each area, and we put it all into the completed guide.

Board members supported the project and gave it their approval for release. The map is available today online and in print.

 

Pilots of other aircraft types, such as twin-engines, turboprops or jets, often have fewer options when it comes to choosing safe runways. I would never suggest that a pilot not choose the safest runway option at a given time. But single-engine piston aircraft make up the vast majority of our flight operations. If we can reduce the annoyance these planes create, we have taken a big step.

I’m hopeful Airport Staff do their best to promote the guide to local and visiting pilots, now and until this information is ingrained into the heads of our aviators.

The Emergency Landing Guide is increased safety and noise abatement in one document. This is the kind of thing we need: new ideas tackling old problems. We might just make things better, and possibly safe a life, too.

Safe Haven for Pilots

“Get-home-itis” describes a condition under which pilots are so eager to get to our destinations, that we depart when we shouldn’t. Sometimes we think we can outrun bad weather, and sometimes we ignore that the engine hiccup we just heard. Reports have blamed “get-home-itis” for more than 40% of aviation fatalities.

I drafted the Safe Haven initiative to do two things:

  • Offer free lodging to suddenly stranded pilots.
  • Offer hangar space, when inbound weather could damage a plane.

Some pilots have no local lodging options. They might lack the funds to rent a hotel room, or all the rooms might be sold out. A pilot might also want to depart quickly if incoming weather, such as hail, could damage aircraft.

Through the Safe Haven initiative, lodging is offered by volunteer community hosts who have agreed to provide guest rooms. When damaging weather is a concern, airport staff work to try to find hangar space.

The goal is simple: Discourage pilots from departing under potentially unsafe conditions.

ACAT unanimously approved the proposal. I worked with Staff on policies and procedures for the program. The Board approved the final program, and it was launched.

There’s a reason Uber and Lyft offer free rides on New Year’s Eve—when people are impaired, they can make bad decisions. Safe Haven improves safety for pilots, their passengers, and for those on the ground, too.

Truckee/Tahoe Home Buyers Guide to the Airport

Regional home buyers are often unaware of what it means to have our airport nearby. Realtors are required by law to disclose airport proximity, but that doesn’t tell the complete story of our airport.

I wanted to provide a resource that served as the initial handshake between the airport and its new neighbors. Not only would the guide be an official information source for home buyers, it would help realtors understand more about how the airport impacts and interfaces with the community.

The guide includes a map that shows the airport’s position within the community. It shows common flight paths and points of interest, and it details the many good things our airport does for our community. Readers are encouraged to take advantage of the airport’s offerings, and it explains how to reach airport personnel with questions or comments.

The project was unanimously approved by ACAT and the Board. It is currently in development.

Airport Neighbor Network

ACAT members are meant to serve as representatives of the community, but we can’t do so effectively. There are only six of us, which means we can’t adequately represent all neighborhoods within the airport district across Placer and Nevada Counties.

My proposal for the Airport Neighbor Network was to connect the airport with two members from every regional community affected by the airport. These folks would monitor social media and other neighborhood discussions, and report back to the network manager any community concerns or ideas they hear. ACAT would hear this information at its monthly meetings, and take action.

In turn, the airport would provide network members with important information for the community, such as upcoming military fly-overs, and invitations to participate in airport planning meetings. They would then distribute that info to neighbors, via social media, email or other options.

It was argued by some on ACAT that community interfacing was ACAT’s job, and that it was up to Staff to distribute news to the public. The truth is, neither option is the best option for keeping the airport connected to its community.

When someone in the community has an idea or a problem with the airport, I want to know about it. We invite people to Board and ACAT meetings, but some people are not comfortable speaking in these forums, and some just don’t have the time.

ACAT approved the project, with a single dissenting vote. It is currently in development, in cooperation with airport staff.

ACAT Issues and Votes

My ACAT voting record offers a sense of how I see things, and how I might be expected to vote as a director on the Airport Board.

ACAT Funding

ACAT has its own budget, which was originally funded with tax dollars. In order to “clean up” what I saw as a potential misuse of public funds, I proposed that ACAT cease to be funded by public tax dollars and, instead, be funded entirely from revenue the airport generates, such as fuel sales or hangar rentals.

ACAT members agreed. We are not publicly elected, we argued, so we should not have the authority to approve the expenditure of public funds.

In November of 2019, this change was approved by ACAT and the Airport Board. No longer does tax revenue fund ACAT projects. If we need more than $1,000 to complete a project, we must now ask the Board’s approval.

Super-charger for Skydive Truckee Airplane

The Request — Skydive Truckee, a commercial, for-profit operator at the airport, asked ACAT to fund the purchase of a supercharger engine upgrade for one of its airplanes. The presumption was that the supercharger would enable the airplane to climb faster, thereby reducing its noise impact to the community below.

The request was for $28,000, which would include the purchase and installation of the supercharger.

My Vote — No

My Reason — The argument for this purchase appeared to be in the community’s best interest, but I could not come to terms with it for the following reasons:

  • Skydive Truckee is a commercial, for-profit enterprise. I don’t believe public funds should be used to fund a company’s operations, even if there might be some downstream community benefit. I was told there was precedent for such purchases, including purchases made by the Board directly, but did not sway my position.
  • Skydive Truckee was not willing to contribute to the purchase; they told us they could not afford it. Further, they argued, they weren’t required to make this investment.
  • There were no guarantees that the supercharger would reduce noise appreciably—all presumptions were theoretical. As an aviator, I understood the aeronautical arguments in favor of the purchase, but I felt I needed more than theories before spending public funds.
  • The supercharger was to be installed on an airplane that had not yet been used for skydiving by Skydive Truckee. Part of the rationale for the request was that we hoped to reduce noise complaints about the skydiving plane. In fact, not one of the complaints received was about this specific airplane. The plane people had complained about was a different model, with a different engine. Until we were certain we had a noise problem with this particular airplane, I felt the discussion was premature.
  • At the request of airport management, Skydive Truckee had already changed their flight paths to reduce their noise impact on the community. Not a single complaint had been logged since those changes went into effect. We thank them for doing this, but I felt this further weakened the argument for the expenditure.

I was outvoted; the upgrade was approved by ACAT.

In a subsequent meeting, ACAT was asked to provide additional money for cost overruns. I again voted no. That request was voted down by ACAT.

Note — One regret I have about this issue was that it appeared to some as though I was being hostile toward Skydive Truckee. In fact, I have no opinion about the organization, then or now. My objection was to the use of public funds to benefit a commercial, for-profit enterprise.

Glider Purchase for Soar Truckee

The Request — ACAT was asked in September of 2018 to purchase a glider for Soar Truckee at the cost of $35,000. The glider would be used, in part, to provide free rides to kids considering careers in aviation. It was to be part of the organization’s Youth Glider Aviation Academy STEM program.

My Vote — Yes

My Reason — Soar Truckee is a not-for-profit organization that has a track record of helping kids get involved with Aviation. ACAT was assured that this new glider would improve safety, while enabling the organization to provide more rides and experiences to local kids.

In fact, I was on the border about my decision. The glider would also be used for paid flights. Granted, the funds would be going to a not-for-profit organization that appeared to be doing great work, but I felt this straddled the line of appropriate use of public funds.