Proposed OLF site could be too close to Blackwater for comfort
Hampton Roads.com (2008-03-03) Jeff Hampton
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By Jeff Hampton
© March 3, 2008
The center of a Navy practice airfield proposed for Camden County would be about two miles from a runway at Blackwater.
While it is too early to tell if operations at the facilities would conflict with each other, two aviation industry observers say it would be unusual for a military facility and a private facility to be so close together.
Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said the military does not typically build near private airfields.
"If there is one out there recently, we're not aware of it," Dancy said.
Todd Curtis, founder and director of The Air Safe
.com Foundation, agreed. Curtis is a private pilot and was a safety engineer for Boeing.
"I'm not aware of any military airfield being that close to a private airfield," he said.
Many busy airports that are close to each other operate safely, but Curtis questioned the Navy's purposes for pitching an outlying landing field in Camden County when there are underused or abandoned airfields in the region.
The Navy has released drawings of the approximate location of the 2,000-acre core area. The distance from its center to the edge of the Blackwater runway is about 11,500 feet, or 2.2 miles, according to a map provided by the Camden County GIS office.
An OLF would average about 31,600 operations a year, or about 86 a day, according to a Navy fact sheet. Typically, there would be one or two 45-minute training sessions daily of four to five aircraft, each performing about 10 operations.
Air operation volume at Blackwater was not readily available.
Helicopters create most aircraft noise from Blackwater, but it is minimal, said Michael Babcock, a resident of Wildwood Drive, which is close to the Blackwater property. Firing ranges and explosions are much worse, he said.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration said last week that the Navy would have to submit a proposal for an airfield.
Kathleen Bergen, spokeswoman for the FAA's southern region, said the agency would review conditions, including operations at nearby runways.
"It's pretty extensive," she said.
As part of the Navy's process of studying which of five proposed sites it favored, it could work out an agreement for shared use of airspace, she said.
Blackwater is the largest private employer in Camden County and one of its largest tax contributors. But speculation about a possible agreement between the Navy and Blackwater, the international security company, started almost immediately after the Navy announced its new list of possible locations for an outlying landing field.
While the Navy and Blackwater have insisted there have been no negotiations or deals, Jeff Jennings, chairman of the Camden County Board of Commissioners and an owner of farmland at the OLF site, is not convinced.
"I think absolutely there is collaboration between Blackwater and the Navy on this thing," he said. "If they haven't already made a deal with the Navy, they are looking to make one."
Blackwater does not oppose the OLF but has made no deals with the Navy, said company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell.
The Navy has no agreements with Blackwater, said Navy spokesman Ted Brown. Exact coordinates of the runway are not known and five sites have to be studied, he said.
Jeff Hampton, (252) 338-0159, email@example.com