By Scott Broden
Murfreesboro Aviation owner Jim Gardner wished he had a longer runway for his flight-training business that day his aircraft ran off the pavement at the city’s airport.
“If one of my planes goes off the runway into the grass there is more likely to be some degree of damage to the aircraft than if it stayed on pavement,” said Gardner, noting he was fortunate to avoid damage before. “The safety of the pilots and the non-flying public is our No. 1 priority.”
Gardner is among the business owners who operate at Murfreesboro Municipal Airport and want to see a proposed runway extension come to fruition.
The Murfreesboro Planning Commission will hold a public hearing tonight about the proposed 1,102 foot extension that will give the runway a new total of 5,000 feet by summer 2013. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers on the first floor of City Hall, 111 W. Vine St.
In addition to planning commission approval, the airport’s runway extension and layout plan would have to go before the City Council in another yet-scheduled public hearing. The council has authority over the city’s airport budget, and the planning commissioners have oversight on master plans.
Planning commissioners had voted 6-1 in favor of the project a couple of months ago, but that decision was declared void after city officials discovered that they didn’t provide enough time for a previous public hearing notice that took place Feb. 1.
The runway extension faces opposition from residents in various neighborhoods including the Bradford Place subdivision.
Bradford Place Community Association Board President J. Intintoli noted city officials only rescheduled another public hearing for fear of getting sued for violating state public notice requirements.
“We are still going to show our opposition,” Intintoli said. “There are no good reasons to do it. The only reason they want to do it is to bring the larger, thus nosier, aircraft into the airport. It’s going to be an issue of noise and quality of life for the people at both ends of the runway. We are concerned with our property value of course. But we also want to be able to go outside in our backyards and carry on our conversations without additional noise.”
The airport runway extension opponents picked up support from Planning Commissioner Toby Gilley, the lone vote against the airport plan. He’s also a member of the city council.
Intintoli noted that the airport runway opposition also picked up support from new Councilman Eddie Smotherman, who won an election last April.
“He promised to oppose the runway extension,” Intintoli said. “The opposition helped him get elected.”
Since the election, Smotherman has become the council’s representative on the Murfreesboro Airport Commission.
“I’m certainly listening to both sides of the issue, and I’ll vote based on the facts and what’s best for Murfreesboro,” Smotherman said.
The longer runway should have little impact on neighbors because the aircraft that needs 5,000 feet for insurance purposes won’t need to fly close over homes and are less noisy than the smaller planes that do, said Gardner, a two-year owner of Murfreesboro Aviation.
“While the runway extension will help improve the performance and efficiency of the turbo props and jets that come to Murfreesboro for business, I am in support of the runway extension because of the improved safety that the additional pavement will bring to my businesses and my customers,” said Gardner, noting that Murfreesboro Aviation has had a presence at the airport for 40 years, including the period when it was called Max Air.
In addition to running a flight school, Murfreesboro Aviation also rents out aircraft, and Gardner expects to add a“135 operation charter” in six months that would allow his business to carry aircraft passengers or cargo to various destinations in a four-seat Duchess or six-seat Seneca. His business has 11 aircraft in total and 19 full-time employees.
Given that modern aircraft are faster and heavier, the runway needs to be longer, Gardner said.
Although the runway would be longer, it would remain a smaller Class B-II airport that can’t handle the weight of larger aircraft that fly into larger airports, Airport Manager Chad Gehrke said.
He hopes the $2.6 million project will start by April and be completed during a three- to four-week stretch aroundJuly 2013 when the airport will be closed for flight operations. The airport at this time has about 52,000 aircraft landings and take offs per year.
“We forecast about 1 percent growth a year as a result of the bigger runway,” said Gehrke, who has overseen the 60-year-old airport since 1994 and would like to see the runway expansion completed. “We are meeting the demands of the present and future aircraft coming into the airport. Some of our Cessna and Citation jets and the Jetsream 31 require longer runways, and for the other aircraft it’s an improvement to safety.”
MTSU is the airport’s largest customer and wanted to buy a 19-passenger Jetstream 31 in the past but had to settle for a more expensive King Air 200 that seats 12 because the runway wasn’t long enough.
In addition to the expansion, airport officials will also repave the existing runway “just to take care of the cracks” at the same time for $2 million, Gehrke said.
In his 18-year career at the local airport, Gehrke has had to complete four reports on aircraft that run off the runway, including three that had damages. He speculates that in some cases pilots don’t inform airport officials about aircraft running off the runway because they had no damages.
Gardner estimates that aircraft run off the runway four to five times per year.
Fellow airport business owner Mike Noblin agreed that a longer runway is needed.
“By doing the runway extension, it’s going to make the airport safer,” said Noblin, the owner of MidSouth Aviation, an aircraft repair business that has national and international customers from New England, California, Minnesota, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Canada, Germany and other locations.
A growing airport makes Murfreesboro a more attractive place for business, said Noblin, who has four employees andspecializes in Mitsubishi aircraft repair.
“There’s some people who won’t bring their aircraft in here because of how short the runway is,” Noblin added. “Businessmen need to be able to travel.”
Fellow airport business owner Mike Jones agreed a longer runway is needed.
“It’s just basically going to make it safer,” said Jones, who has eight full-time employees and four part-time workers and has been based at the airport for more than 30 years. “It doesn’t change the dynamics of the airport one bit. It’s safer for the aircraft that comes in here. You’ll never get big airplanes from commercial airlines coming in here.”
Jones has an Avionics business that installs radio equipment, an aircraft maintenance business and a aircraft sales business. He sees the airport runway extension as serving a similar purpose as the city’s decision a few years ago to widen DeJarnette Lane to improve the safety and flow of traffic.
“I’d worry more about a robber, a thief, a car wreck,” Jones said. “What we’re doing here is making the airport safer for existing traffic that comes in and out of here right now. There will be very little increase in traffic if any.”
The airport officials and their businesses expect federal grants to pay for 90 percent of the costs to expand and repave the runway while sales from aircraft fuel and hangar leases will pay for the rest.
“This is one of the few cases in Murfreesboro where an improvement to a city facility benefits the entire community and the city does not have to pay anything for it,” said Gardner, noting that company executives who fly to the city to check on their offices here spend a lot of money on restaurants, car rentals and sometimes lodging. “The airport will pay for this through their funds and with TennesseeAeronautics grants. That’s a great deal.”
He noted that he’s examined all of the Airport Commission’s studies about the runway extension and airport layout plan.
“It is all very positive and all proves that these improvements will not have a negative impact on property values or quality of life,” Gardner said. “It is time now for the city to adopt these plans and make the necessary improvements as the Airport Commission and thestudies recommend.”
Date:July 31, 2012