Nearly 100 people turned out Monday night to air their concerns about plans for theHarford County Airport.
“The only thing we care about as a group is noise and risk,” James Quall, who lives on Cool Branch Road in Churchville, said.
The airport is in the process of seeking permission from Harford County to reconfigure its runways and add storage hangars, a project that requires a community input meeting first.
The owners of the airport have proposed consolidating the facility's three runways into one, and extending the remaining runway, said John Gessner, a Bel Air attorney representing the Harford County Airport owners, at the Aug. 26 meeting.
“This is not a big change," Gessner added, at the beginning of what turned into a two-hour presentation.
Updating the runway would enable the airport to accommodate double-engine planes, project officials explained; currently, the Harford County Airport mostly attracts single-engine planes because of its runway length.
In 2012, there were 17,840 takeoffs and landings at the Aldino Road airport, according to the Maryland Aviation Administration.
With its longer runway, project officials said Monday that the airport would see an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 takeoffs and landings.
Some asked whether jets would be flying into the Aldino Road airport.
Mike Waibel, an engineer working on the airport design, said that was unlikely, because most insurance agencies require a 5,000-foot runway for jet pilots to land.
Additionally, Waibel said that the Harford County Airport has a weight limit of 12,500-pounds. “There aren’t many jets that are less than 12,500 pounds," Waibel said.
Residents said they were concerned the increased air traffic could jeopardize their safety. One man said a flight student had grazed his neighbor's trees. Others mentioned stories of planes into houses they saw on the news.
One state official at the meeting said the proposal would increase safety at the Harford County Airport.
"What it is today meets the minimum standards," Ashish Solanki, regional aviation director for the Maryland Aviation Administration, said at the community meeting held at Dixie Construction Monday. "Some of the safety areas that we'd like to see are not here.”
The Harford County Airport lacks runway safety areas, or buffers on the end of the runway, Solanki explained.
When a citizen asked whether any pilots in the audience could verify there was a safety issue, Michael Higgins, a Havre de Grace resident who said he owns a Cessna at the airport, spoke up.
“On a hot day, the air is thick, the aircraft doesn’t perform as it should...[and] it is a hazard,” Higgins said. “The extra footage this runway would increase safety immensely.”
Because altering the runways would disturb an existing wetland, engineers showed that they planned to enhance an area elsewhere on the property, which used to be a channel.
John Mallamo of Churchville said that with the enhancement, he was concerned the adjacent properties would also be classified as wetlands.
Gessner said they would not be impacted.
In addition to expanding the runway, the airport proposal calls for adding several 42-foot-wide "tea hangars" for storing and maintaining planes, Waibel said. He told the audience that currently these were not in demand but would be part of the buildout for the airport over a 20-year planning period.
"We’re concerned about the hangars.....Are people going to be allowed to be sitting in there partying?” Diana Tyler, a homeowner on the 3600 block of Aldino Road, asked.
She said that the facility, which project officials repeatedly stated was a public airport that is open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, attracted people "all hours of the night...driving four-wheelers, partying and drinking."
Her property is so close to the airport, she said: "The parachuters look like they're in my backyard, and I can hear them talking." (There is a skydiving business that operates out of the Harford County Airport, in addition to flight school.)
"We're concerned about property values, noise..." Tyler said. "Everything you do there affects us."
Gessner said that the proposal would not affect real estate nearby.
"I don’t believe that any real estate appraiser is going to say that the changes to this airport are going to have any measurable effect on your property values," Gessner said, which generated laughter from the skeptical audience.
Tyler said it was "common sense" that if there were more planes, there would be more risk, for safety and people's investments.
“We [will] have more traffic in a safer facility. More traffic, better facility, risk is negligible," Gessner said. “We’re not asking for major changes to this airport. It’s not going to turn into BWI."
Gessner said the next public meeting for the project will be before the Harford County Board of Appeals.