TAUNTON — Things are looking up for the Taunton Municipal Airport.
The Taunton Pilots Association has announced that the Internal Revenue Service recently recognized it as a tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) non-profit.
A group of pilots who frequently use the East Taunton airport formed the TPA in early 2015, in anticipation of raising donations to improve conditions and, by extension, attract interest and use of the city-owned airport.
The TPA’s initial press release said it intended to “promote goodwill and the spirit of general aviation,” as well as foster a sense of shared responsibility between the pilots and community at large.
TPA president Melinda Paine-Dupont said the group’s attorney is getting it registered as a non-profit with both the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth and the office of the state attorney general.
Paine-Dupont says potential donors, including pilots and former pilots, are waiting in the wings to donate money.
She said the money will pay for removing “a few remarkably tall trees and some brush” on private property bordering the end of the runway’s north approach.
Paine-Dumont said the handful of private property owners have indicated a willingness to allow the trees to be cut down, as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.
“They have no problem with us cutting them down,” she said.
Paine-Dumont estimates it will cost the TPA less than $35,000 to remove the trees, which she said will improve take-off and landing visibility.
She also stressed the advantage of a non-profit paying for the work instead of relying on the less-than-likely chance of a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.
During a City Council meeting last December, an engineer hired by the city to assess the needs of the airport and devise a new master plan warned that the FAA has been curtailing project funding to many municipal airports.
Taunton’s airport, the engineer said, probably doesn’t rank very high as a priority with the FAA. And he said if the FAA were to provide a grant it could end up costing taxpayers between $700,000 and $1 million to remove the trees and clean up the site.
Paine-Dupont said when the federal government becomes involved in matters such as buying land rights, issuing requests for proposal and paying prevailing-wage salaries, a project’s cost can quickly become “ridiculously high.”
“We can actually do it much more cheaply,” she said.
Paine-Dupont said the move to improve visibility is not related to previous concerns about the condition of the airport’s secondary, shorter runway.
Known as 4/22, the 1,900-by-60-foot turf-and-gravel runway is often used as a landing alterative to runway 12/30, a longer and wider runway made of asphalt, when crosswinds exceed 20 knots.
The master plan takes into account ways of improving runway 4/22, which, according to the master-plan engineer, is “non-compliant” and could potentially become a liability to the city.
Airport manager Daniel Raposa said he doesn’t object to the efforts of the TPA to independently raise funds to remove trees.
He also said the Taunton Municipal Airport is not a grant-funding priority for the FAA.
Ken Gibson, who runs a non-profit at the airport called Project Takeoff — which he says introduces and educates underprivileged children and young adults to the joys of flying — said the TPA’s road to becoming a non-profit is a positive development.
Gibson said he has one hangar at the airport and is building more to eventually be rented.
Taunton Municipal Airport came into being in 1960 after its original owner, Henry King, who established it as King Field in 1919, handed it over to the city.