Pilot sees trouble taking off, landing over new obstruction

Grand Junction pilot David Shepard said it’s not a matter of if, but when a tragedy will occur if power lines recently built one-half mile northwest of Blake Field Airport’s runway are allowed to remain where they are.

The lines are strung on poles approximately 50 feet tall along a hill that is 100 feet higher than the airport’s runway, according to airport Manager Mark Husman.

Shepard identified three primary safety concerns regarding the lines,

Landing at night will be more dangerous for pilots unfamiliar with Blake Field. The airport’s elevated terrain creates an increased chance of a “low approach” by a transient airplane, increasing the risk of the pilot flying into the power lines, Shepard said.

On hot, sunny days, heat rising from the runway can hamper an airplane’s lift, causing planes to use more runway to take off. Shepard said a poorly performing plane could hit a power line after being unable to climb properly.

Emergency landings will be riskier. If a plane takes off and loses power, the pilot must maneuver the plane gently back to the airport, Shepard said. This sort of power loss can affect the plane’s ability to stay in the air and force the pilot to make maneuvers close to the ground.

Shepard noted the second and third scenarios cannot be prevented by simply placing red strobes or signal balls on the transmission lines to make them more visible. The pilots need a clear flight path, he said.

Shepard also pointed out the only hazards currently listed for Blake Field on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association website are some bushes that are 4 feet high.

Shepard said he hopes Tri-State Generation and Transmission Inc., which built the power lines, will move the section in question before it’s too late. And if Tri-State isn’t inclined to do it, he hopes Delta County can force the change.

“Oftentimes in aviation, things change after an accident,” Shepard said. “This is a case where we have a chance to avoid a tragedy by doing something before an accident happens.

“In my opinion it is not a question of if, but rather a question of when some family will die tragically, probably a transient aircraft landing at night in Delta.

“If Tri-State is a good corporate citizen, they’ll move the line rather than ask the flying public to risk lives because of their mistake. If Delta County government is interested in protecting the public from a tragedy, they’ll insist that the company honor their agreement with the county.”


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