General aviators want airport hangars to remain accessible

GRETEL DAUGHERTY/The Daily Sentinel—Eddie Clements needs an escort to access the Lancair 360 experimental aircraft he is reassembling in a friend’s hangar at the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

Eddie Clements was in high school when he was bitten by the aviation bug. As teenager, Clements would ride his bicycle to what is now the Grand Junction Regional Airport, so he could work odd jobs for small-airplane pilots and try to get his foot in the door working with the airplanes he loved.

His persistence was rewarded. He eventually was hired by Wegner Aircraft, one of the original hangars where West Star Aviation is today.

With the installation of the security fence surrounding hangars at the general aviation section of the airport this past year, Clements, who has worked as a commercial pilot and is an authorized Federal Aviation Administration inspector, laments that the future of aviation looks bleak for the next generation at the local airport and for general aviation in general.

Without a security badge, people who want to access the general aviation section of the airport must call ahead to the hangar or business and be escorted to their destination.

“I should be able to come in and out of the airport,” he said. “I’ve had background checks done. I have badges at other airports. I’ve been around this airport my whole life.”

But Clements can’t come and go at the Grand Junction airport as he pleases. He has requested the opportunity to buy the $125 badge to allow him access to work on an airplane in a friend’s hangar, but he’s been told by airport administration he doesn’t qualify to receive one because he doesn’t own a hangar there. Clements could be sponsored by another local hangar owner to receive a badge, but he said he thinks he should be able to have one on his own recognizance.

To maintain his FAA qualifications Clements must log 35 hours a week working on an airplane, and currently he is helping reassemble a canary-yellow Lancair 360 in a friend’s hangar. To gain access to the hangar, he must call hangar owner Bill Marvel to escort him through the gates.

“This is what aviation should be like,” he said, as he and some friends gathered around the small plane to test its landing gear and troubleshoot how to install the carburetor.

Several “for sale” signs on hangars at the general aviation section of Grand Junction’s airport could be symptomatic of the increased restrictions at the airport, an overall decline in general aviation, or some combination of those factors.

General aviation has been on a downward trend nationally in the past decade, and activity at Federal Aviation Administration air-traffic facilities declined 2.3 percent in 2011, according to the FAA. Furthermore, U.S. manufacturers of general aviation aircraft delivered an estimated 1,215 aircraft in 2011, a 8.9 percent reduction from 2010, which also represents a fourth consecutive year of declines, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

Yet the number of student pilots is on the rise, thanks to a new rule enacted in 2010 that allows certifications to be valid for 60 months instead of 36 months for pilots under age 40. That rule helped attract 64.8 percent more, or 47,000 more student pilots, in 2010 compared with 2009, according to the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, the FAA reported.

Bill Swartz, a Montrose County Airport Advisory Board member, general aviation pilot and flight instructor, said it’s important for airports to take care of the general aviation side of operations.

Montrose’s airport also has a fence, and people are subjected to background checks, but they do not have be escorted in and out of the fenced area, he said. Swartz said he flew into Grand Junction’s airport recently with students and did not have a problem negotiating the airport, but he felt hassled trying to attend a function at the Civil Air Patrol, as people were lined up in cars behind the gates.

“I can understand why those people are up in arms,” he said. “It’s a private museum, but they had people waiting out the gate. It’s terrible.”

Swartz said he feels Montrose’s airport, which offers commercial service, supports general aviation, and he contends fees from small-airplane users help the airport pay the bills.

“These small airports need to support general aviation as much as possible,” Swartz said. “I hope your airport gets that taken care of.”


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