NATA, AOPA bask in Stuart Airport win

 - October 10, 2007, 10:03 AM

The National Air Transportation Association and AOPA both took bows after voters in Martin County, Fla., defeated three politicians who wanted to downsize the county’s Witham Field (SUA) in Stuart, Fla.

NATA attributed the victory of the three incumbent county commissioners, who supported keeping the airport open as it is, to its Town Hall meeting with pilots and other interested parties and editorials in the local newspapers.

AOPA said it rushed to the defense of the airport after an anti-airport group of wealthy homeowners “polluted the community with a mishmash of misinformation and scare tactics” to put their candidates on the Martin County board of commissioners. The association responded with a series of newspaper ads aimed at educating voters about the airport and the benefits it provides to the community.

SUA has three runways, the longest of which is 5,826 feet. It also has a control tower that operates during daylight hours, as well as GPS and Rnav approaches.

“Witham Field is a significant economic and community asset benefiting the citizens of Martin County,” NATA president Jim Coyne wrote in a local newspaper editorial. “It is not–as a small, extremely vocal minority of the county believes and would have others agree–an economic burden, a safety hazard or, especially when compared to other activities in the county, a major source of noise.”

NATA expressed hope that the re-election of the incumbents, who are in favor of continuing to use state and federal funds to improve and continue Witham Field operations, will put the airport issue to rest.

Quoting a Stuart Times editorial columnist, AOPA claimed that even the pundits expressed frustration with the anti-airport racket. “Just lately, Team Anti-Airport has been ratcheting up the bad-neighbor-Witham propaganda,” Nancy Smith wrote two days before the August 31 primary election. “And election or no election, it’s time to say ‘enough.’ Geographically, operationally, even aesthetically–Witham Field is one beautiful airport…[It] is part of the glue that shapes the Martin County lifestyle.”

Both general aviation associations pointed out that the current board of commissioners is sensitive to noise issues and is working to solve the problem in the right way. Bill Dunn, AOPA v-p of airports, said the board is pursuing an FAR Part 150 noise study and has worked with the FAA and the pilot community to implement voluntary measures to reduce noise for the airport’s neighbors.