By Dave Schwab
Airport authorities say fears are misplaced and premature that Montgomery-Gibbs Airport’s ongoing master plan update would pave the way for more jets while diminishing neighbors’ quality of life and property values.
But some residents in Montgomery Field’s flight path, like Steve Nelson of Del Cerro, are questioning the intent and transparency of the Montgomery master plan update, which will redefine how the airport will be used for the next two decades.
Runway expansion to accommodate larger jets is one of many proposals in a master plan redo currently underway for the 456-acre, three-runway Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport. It is a public-use airport owned and operated by the city of San Diego and its Airports Division, a branch of the city’s Real Estate Assets Department. The Airports Division has embarked on a master-planning process to guide airport development at both Montgomery and Brown Field airports for the next 20 years.
“People in our community don’t really quite understand what it (runway expansion) is going to do,” warned Nelson. “They’re just blowing it off worrying about their water bills. Just wait until their property values have dropped $200,000 because they have freakin’ jets flying overhead.”
Nelson, who has been following the MGA master-planning process for nearly a year, noted the process is “supposed be open to the public and transparent.” But he contended, “The real information is masked in deep, lengthy, complex reports and further clouded in airport jargon which is not easily obtained, processed, or understood by the general public.”
Citing an example, Nelson claims language buried in master-plan reports states that “the displaced threshold (moving the lines back on the existing runway to allow larger aircraft/jets to land) may be modified.”
What that really means to the public, Nelson said is that, “We (airport) are proposing to move back the landing limit lines on the runway by 1,176 feet so larger aircraft/jets can land from the east. Communities to the east of Montgomery (Del Cerro, Allied Gardens, San Carlos, Grantville, La Mesa, Tierrasanta) can expect more frequent, larger and louder aircraft/jets flying over their homes. The altitude of these larger aircraft/jets may also be lower to accommodate the longer runway that has been shifted to the east.”
If that happens, Nelson claims that change, though it likely would be good for Montgomery Field and its tenants, would not be good for the city or the airport’s neighboring communities.
“A proper cost-benefit analysis would prove the minor benefits to MGA would be far outweighed by the financial/community-related losses to modify the displaced threshold to allow larger jets to land from the east,” Nelson said. “This analysis needs to cover not only financial metrics, but immediate and long-term affects to the people and communities.”
Wayne Reiter, program manager for the city of San Diego’s Airports Division, said the MGA master plan update needs to be put in proper perspective. Typically, said Reiter, airport maser plans are redone every five to 10 years to keep them current. “This is not the case with MGA, whose last update was done 30 years ago,” he said.
Reiter pointed out airport master plans are comprehensive studies to determine proper long-term planning for an airport including the extent, type and schedule of development needed. The process involved in master planning considers the needs and demands of all parties: airport tenants, users and the public.
Master plan redos are “a 20-year planning exercise,” Reiter said noting the objective is “to take a look at the airport today, do a forecast of aviation demand, then propose facility changes to accommodate that forecast, which is what we expect the traffic volume to be during the next 20 years.”
Reiter said the traffic volume forecast which has been done for Montgomery concludes the airport “will have less than half a percent increase in air traffic over the next 20 years … so there is no real trend about (flight volume) increasing.”
“Where we are right now with Montgomery is, what type of development does the city want to do given the projected demand?” continued Reiter, adding three different alternatives for possible airport redevelopment are now on the table.
Added Reiter, “The city has not elected a preferred alternative. That is what we intend to move forward with.” He added one of those three alternatives includes looking at the displaced threshold of Montgomery’s main runway.
Reiter noted a technical analysis of airport issues, such as the consequences of displacing the threshold on the main runway, “has not been completed, we hope to get it within a month or so. That will be the answer to a lot of the questions people have – and we’re not there yet. Once we get that, the city will be able to make an informed decision. We haven’t made that decision yet.”
Montgomery-Gibbs is home to a number of facilities providing an array of aeronautical services including fueling, hangaring, tie-down and parking, aircraft rental, aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, hangar rentals, air charter and medical transport.
The city received an FAA grant of $500,000 for master planning for Montgomery-Gibbs, and is providing funds from the Airport Enterprise Fund to pay for the studies.
When finished, the airport master plan update for Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport will include reports of existing and future conditions, as well as providing airport layout plans, and a schedule of priorities and funding sources for any proposed improvements.
— Freelance writer Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.