A group of northeast Mesa residents upset with flight training and what they call safety hazards at Falcon Field delivered a 30-page petition with signatures and comments to the mayor and City Council Tuesday afternoon.
Terri Eisenhauer, member of the Keep Falcon Field Safe Committee and longtime area resident, said a city task force's recent recommendations aimed at balancing airport and residential concerns are not far-reaching enough to improve the quality of life in residential neighborhoods.
The group's key demand: Flight operations should stick to the north side of the airport and stay in a tight pattern around the airport, so they don't fly over surrounding neighborhoods.
Their main target is flight training patterns used by CAE/Sabena Flight Training Center, the largest flight school in the country and a major presence at the airport with hundreds of daily flights.
"Their training planes are circling over our neighborhood all the time," Eisenhauer said.
The petition calls for "immediate action in order to help the families, schools, churches and businesses that currently find themselves in harm's way," a news release sent by the committee stated.
Sylvia Stinson, chief flight instructor at Sabena, said the Federal Aviation Administration controls the use of runways, not Sabena. She added that while they're trying to encourage more operations on the north runway, with the huge traffic volume at the airport, both runways are bound to be used. Plus, Stinson said, for safety and performance reasons, not all planes can even be used on the north runway. "It wouldn't be safe to do that, because there's not enough takeoff distance for some planes," Stinson said.
Compared with the 249,000 flights in 2006 at Falcon Field, flights have gone up to 320,000 in 2008, since the school started operations at the airport.
Among the city's seven-member task force's recommendations is to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to "create an expectation that (safety and weather permitting) training operations use the north runway to fullest extent possible."
But Eisenhauer said a subsequent recommendation, to work with the FAA to provide priority for the south runway to recreational and corporate aircraft, and not training aircraft, as used by Sabena, defeats the purpose.
"Priority to me means that when private pilots don't need it, flight training operations can still use it, which really doesn't change the status quo for us at all," Eisenhauer said.
Councilwoman Dina Higgins, who represents the area, said she was surprised by this reaction from Eisenhauer's group.
"I had thought that they were not agreeing to everything but that they were buying into the process of the stakeholders task force," Higgins said.
To her knowledge, she said Sabena has already changed its flight patterns to some extent.
"They're flying on that north runway, and this morning they were flying over the east edge of my neighborhood, which is unlike earlier," Higgins noted.
She said she would look forward to hearing about the ongoing concerns at a public meeting scheduled Sept. 30 to discuss the recommendations.
City Manager Chris Brady recently presented the task force's 20 recommendations to Falcon Field's air traffic control tower manager, Harold Sharp. But city officials say there are still many steps needed to be taken for a solution, which they're working through.
"We want a reasonable solution to help the airport be a better neighbor but to also ensure that the airport and its tenants flourish," said Natalie Lewis, assistant to the city manager.
Not everyone is on the side of the Keep Falcon Field Safe Committee.
Like Thomas Wheeler, who posted on the Web site www.keepfalconfieldsafe.com: "I've lived in Mesa now for over 23 years. I'm located in the flight path for the airport. I have no problem with it. Falcon Field has been here way before all of the homes were built and like myself (knew) about the airport before we built our home."
In late April, dozens of business owners near Falcon Field rallied around Sabena after the city proposed a resolution that business owners said would have granted the city manager sweeping powers to regulate operations at the airport. Some business owners at the time said they believed the city was aiming to curb flight operations there because of noise complaints.
The city said the resolution was simply a housekeeping measure and has since pulled it.
Eisenhauer insists it's a matter of safety even more than the noise.
"People tell us we moved near the airport and we should have expected it. But we think our lives are at risk," she said, noting an accident last year in which a plane landed close to a neighbor's home after it crashed into an orange grove. "We have a real concern something's going to happen and a plane will wind up on top us."