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No. Because Heber City has accepted federal grants, Heber City is obligated to maintain the airport in a safe condition in perpetuity. Of course, even if the City could close the airport, it would mean loss of numerous livable wage jobs and prevent critical access for our region’s emergency services.
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Heber Valley Airport’s master plan is designed to be a transparent and thoughtful effort to engage all stakeholders in planning for the future of the airport. This means looking at whether any changes are needed to update the existing airport’s security, safety, and efficiency. It is not a mandate to grow the airport; rather, it provides the City with accurate and current data that will help the community make informed decisions about the future of this airport. Once the data is collected, the City can then make decisions on whether it needs to modernize the airport or if there are safety concerns that should be addressed. To be clear, there is no requirement as the result of the Master Plan that the City expand the airport. According to the FAA, “Airport Master plans are prepared to support the modernization or expansion of existing airports or the creation of a new airport. The master plan is the sponsor’s (Heber City) strategy for the development of the airport.” However, “in some cases the airport sponsor may decide that it is in the community’s best interest for the airport not to continue to grow to accommodate forecast activity.” (FAA Advisory Circular 150-5070-6B)
In the last few years Heber City Airport has seen an increase in small business jet traffic. The runway at Heber City Airport was designed for aircraft with much slower approach speeds than the aircraft that now use our airport. Because we have more than 500 operations (takeoffs or landings) by these business jets each year, the FAA has strongly encouraged Heber City to prepare an update of the airport master plan so the City can make a well-informed decision about the future airport development of the airport in light of its existing and predicted future traffic.
The Airport Master Plan update is expected to take between 18 months and 2 years to complete. There are three main phases to the plan: inventory and forecasting, developing and selecting the preferred plan, and finalizing the preferred alternative. There will be opportunities for public involvement throughout the process.
When airport owners or sponsors like the City accept grant funds from the FAA, they must sign a contract that includes a list of obligations that the City must satisfy. These obligations, called Grant Assurances, require that the City to maintain and operate their airport safely and efficiently and in accordance with specified conditions. These Grant Assurances cover a range of safety, operations and financial matters that are designed to make sure that the airport is operated in a manner consistent with federal policies and regulations.
The City does not have, and is not required to seek, a permit to operate a commercial airport. No one is even contemplating creating a commercial airport. Without such a permit, regular commercial airline service cannot be introduced at the airport. In addition, there are terrain and other issues that would make it very difficult for the City to make the improvements that would be required to accommodate airlines. To be clear, the FAA cannot, and an airline cannot, force the City to accept airline service.
The Heber Valley Airport serves many vital needs of the Heber community, including
Understanding the scope of services available at Heber Valley Airport helps to explain its critical role in travel, transportation, and infrastructure. The Heber Valley Airport also offers facilities for pilots, refueling and refreshing. Other services include offering conference rooms, flight crew quarters, and aircraft mechanical services.
In terms of aircraft and hangar owners, the demographics are as follows:
No. Any aircraft that can safely use the airport must be allowed to operate. Federal law prohibits the City from imposing limits beyond safety limits that are dictated by the FAA. In the same way the City cannot restrict the general public from driving on public roads, the City cannot restrict the number or type of aircraft using the airport.
No. Every airport is designed for maximum size and speed of aircraft. If an aircraft can safely use the airport, federal law prohibits the City from preventing that aircraft from using the airport. If an aircraft is too large to safely operate, that is the FAA’s and the pilot’s responsibility, not the City’s obligation, to know that it would be unsafe to operate at the airport. Of course, if a large aircraft were land anyway, and were to damage our facility because of weight or speed, the owners of that aircraft would be held responsible. One of the reasons that the FAA has asked the City to undertake the Master Plan is that the FAA data shows that somewhat larger aircraft would use this airport if it were safe to do so. The Master Plan process is designed to help the City make a decision whether to update the safety standards for those larger planes.
Yes, but it would be very costly to Heber City taxpayers. And, even if the City were to fund the airport, it would still be bound by the federal Grant Assurances because it has taken grant money in the past. In the future, if the City took no more federal grant money, it would have to fund maintenance and improvements necessary to satisfy its legal obligation to keep the airport operating in a safe manner.
Today, Heber City is the official airport sponsor and is therefore responsible for all related costs. There is, however, no reason that Heber City could not entertain an agreement between either other counties to help defray costs. This decision to participate in an agreement would entail financial and legal risk. The economic benefits would have to outweigh that risk.
Heber City and the Heber Valley Airport are actively seeking community input during the master plan upgrade process. Please leave a comment here or plan to attend one of our public meetings.