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Resolution passes to seek tighter rein on local air traffic

In an effort to gain more control over Southern Nevada air traffic, Clark County commissioners Tuesday cast a resolution to pursue federal legislation that will give the Aviation Department authority over what type of aircraft can fly from each airport in the county’s system.

The commission passed the resolution 6-0 on a motion by Lawrence Weekly. Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani was absent.

County Aviation Director Randall Walker sought the resolution to address safety concerns that swirled around North Las Vegas Airport after a pair of fatal aircraft accidents in August in which small planes crashed into nearby houses.

Of particular concern, he said, are experimental aircraft like the one that crashed Aug. 22 killing veteran pilot Mack Murphree and two residents. Walker noted that the amateur-built Velocity plane had been flown only 5.1 hours but had special permission to make a test flight with the engine’s supercharger engaged for the first time.

“Under those conditions, I do not believe he should have been taking off from North Las Vegas Airport,” Walker said.

He said it makes sense to allow those types of flights and other higher risk operations such as pilots making their first solo flights from the county’s Jean Sport Aviation Center, 25 miles south of McCarran International Airport.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor commented on the resolution by phone after it passed.

“We believe Congress acted wisely giving the FAA sole jurisdiction over civilian air space throughout this country,” Gregor said. “We would see tremendous disruptions, even chaos, to air traffic all over the United States if local communities were able to arbitrarily ban whatever types of aircraft they wanted at their local airports,” he said.

At the commission meeting, Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Barlow said residents are “living in fear … of aircraft dropping from the blue sky like winter leaves.”

“Experimental aircraft should no longer be allowed to take off and land at North Las Vegas Airport,” Barlow said.

In all there have been six fatal crashes since June involving small planes in or from Southern Nevada. Half of those crashes involved experimental aircraft. North Las Vegas Airport was either the destination or departure site for five of the six planes, including one that crashed in Colorado and one that went down after taking off from the airport at Parowan, Utah, to return to North Las Vegas Airport.

Some local pilots said the FAA should maintain its policy as the authority for safety in all civilian air space.

“I don’t think eliminating aircraft of one type or another is the answer,” said Robert Jones, a pilot who has lived in the Las Vegas Valley since 1988.

“I don’t think the county has any business in this. The FAA has determined what type of aircraft are safe to fly,” Jones said.

Another pilot, Jess Meyers, who owns and builds experimental aircraft, said a pilots’ advisory board met to offer suggestions to improve safety at North Las Vegas Airport in August but the county Department of Aviation stonewalled them.

After the meeting, Walker denied that was the case and said his staff had spoken to the pilots’ group about their ideas.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

 

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