No through the fence operations at Stevens Field

During a monthly Archuleta County Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) meeting last Thursday, ex officio member and Stevens Field manager Bill McKown announced that investigation into “through the fence (TTF) operations” at the airport will not move forward. As he put it, “It’s a dead issue.”

As defined by the Federal Aviation Administration, “Through the fence operations are those activities permitted by an airport sponsor through an agreement that permits access to the public landing area by independent entities or operators offering an aeronautical activity or to owners of aircraft based on land adjacent to, but not a part of, the airport property. The obligation to make an airport available for the use and benefit of the public does not impose any requirement for the airport sponsor to permit ground access by aircraft from adjacent property.”

More simply, according to the Stevens Field “Airport Minimum Standards,” a through the fence operation is, “an aeronautical activity operating from other than Stevens Field airport property, and accessing airport property, through the airport’s fence.”

Without closely examining the definition of “aeronautical activity,” some examples are: air charter operations, air taxi, sightseeing, pilot training, aircraft rental or repair, aerial surveying, advertising or photography, and the sale of aviation petroleum products — particularly fuel. Obviously, all such activities require the movement of aircraft, whereby owners basing planes on land adjacent to airport property would require access to “the public landing area.”

At present, as is stipulated by Article V, Paragraph 96 of the Stevens Field minimum standards, “Through the fence operations are not currently approved for Stevens Field at Archuleta County.”

Since January, though, the commission had been researching the feasibility of bringing such operations to the airport as a way of stimulating economic growth nearby. In fact, certain commission members suggested aviation-related development adjacent to the airfield would increase county property tax revenues, and generate additional income through collection of airport access and permit fees.

Of course, to approve TTF operations at Stevens Field, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) would also have to endorse relative changes to the airport minimum standards. That, however, seemed a simple task.

Meanwhile, during a May 21 meeting, McKown and other AAC members reported little progress on inquiries into TTF operations, though McKown did present a draft resolution to the county bosses that, if approved, would allow them at Stevens Field under certain circumstances.

A brief discussion ensued, with McKown showing illustrations depicting properties near the airport that might be conducive to TTF operations. He continued, suggesting that completion of a south taxiway in 2014 would increase the plausibility of such operations.

When asked why the BoCC would consider supporting TTF operations before the AAC had finished determining their feasibility, though, attending County Commissioner Bob Moomaw agreed, it was kind of putting the cart before the horse.

Nevertheless, he and ex officio AAC member and county administrator Greg Schulte agreed to look into various rules and regulations to see if TTF could work locally. At the same time, several AAC members agreed to analyze similar operations at other airports around the nation.

Since then, at a May 29 BoCC working session, commissioners Moomaw and Clifford Lucero — along with other county officials — discussed a number of airport development issues. Among them, of course, was the feasibility of through the fence operations and whether pursuing the idea should continue.

Though officials reached no definitive decision that day, both commissioners reportedly expressed serious doubts about permitting outside access to the airport when ample undeveloped land lay dormant on airport property. Too, they appeared uncomfortable with the obvious lack of Federal Aviation Administration support for such projects, and they clearly meant to preserve the county’s relationship with Avjet, the current fixed base operator.

Within a week after the working session, Schulte apparently contacted McKown, informing him that his draft resolution failed to make BoCC agenda review and that the commissioners chose not to move the matter forward now, or in the near future.

With that, the idea of through the fence operations at Stevens Field died.

chuck@pagosasun.com