Well, now what?
The perimeter fence surrounding the Grand Junction Regional Airport may as well be a ghost. It won’t stop haunting the Airport Authority.
The fence, as readers may recall, figured into an investigation of wrongdoing at the airport. A secret lawsuit alleged the airport fraudulently pursued Federal Aviation Administration funding for construction of the $5 million fence.
A federal investigation concluded there was no fraud resulting in damages to the government, although a judge agreed with prosecutors that the airport authority should pay a $16,500 fine for certifying that the fence would have no significant effect on general aviation businesses at the airport.
As the Sentinel’s Gary Harmon has frequently reported, airport tenants and users have long chafed at the gates that were installed to meet federal airport security requirements. The gates cut off unimpeded access to businesses and the Commemorative Air Force Museum. Understandably, the general aviation community sought a way to open the gates and restore the free-flow of traffic and eventually pressed congressional lawmakers to intervene.
Pressure from U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton led to approval of a plan to use new technology that airport officials hoped would eventually eliminate the need for gates. With the Transportation Security Administration’s blessing, the board completed a $163,000 contract with Dynetics, a Hunstville, Alabama-based company.
The contract couldn’t be discussed in public for security reasons, board members said. The company installed a GroundAware radar system that was supposed to be able to track moving people, and distinguish vehicles from animals and animals from people “with a high degree of reliability and a high degree of sustainability,” Harmon reported in October 2015.
Grand Junction was supposed to be a showcase for Dynetics’ security technology. But on April 10, a woman with possible mental-health problems went undetected as she breached the fence and made her way onto the tarmac.
Airport officials, including top executive Kip Turner, are expected to discuss the issue in more detail next month. In the meantime, this can only be viewed as a massive disappointment and a serious concern. Dynetics, which airport officials have had a difficult time reaching, ought to leap to the fore and make assurances that it didn’t sell the airport a bill of goods.
The breach clearly illustrates why a fence is a federal security requirement. At least the woman didn’t have the opportunity to get a vehicle onto the runway, and thus multiply the danger.
But it may spell doom for the general aviation community’s goal to have the gates open on a permanent basis. The technology that might have allowed that is now suspect. The GA community has been very patient waiting for a solution. Looks like they’ll have to wait much longer.