By Dave Schwab
A neighborhood watchdog group recently formed to oversee Montgomery-Gibbs Field has raised a number of red-flag issues about the airport’s ongoing master plan update including noise, proposed airport runway expansion and the facility’s continued use of leaded fuel.
Runway expansion to accommodate larger jets is one proposal in an ongoing master plan update for the 456-acre, three-runway Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport at 3750 John J Montgomery Drive in Kearny Mesa.
Reaction to that, and other issues, has spurred surrounding Clairemont, Kearney Mesa and Serra Mesa residents to create the Montgomery-Gibbs Environmental Coalition.
MGEC is committed to ensuring residents’ concerns about planning for Montgomery-Gibbs Airport’s future are properly — and fully — addressed.
Leaded fuel use tops MGEC Executive Director Sandra Stahl’s airport priority list.
“The Airports Advisory Committee and [Mayor Kevin Faulconer] have both basically ignored our written request to explain why unleaded aviation fuel is not being offered for sale at Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport,” said Stahl. “As a result, we have launched an extensive campaign to inform the public about the health hazard caused by the 1.442 metric tons of lead particles generated annually by airport operations.”
Stahl and others from MGEC have begun canvassing local civic groups, including the Clairemont Town Council.
“Hopefully, that will put enough pressure on the city to start offering FAA certified unleaded UL94 fuel that can be used by some 80 percent of general aviation planes that now only have the option to purchase leaded aviation fuel at Montgomery-Gibbs,” Stahl said adding “young children are especially vulnerable to lead pollution.” According to the World Health Organization, no amount of lead is safe.
Concerning leaded fuel use, the city of San Diego said that’s not in their domain.
“Establishment of aircraft emission standards and enforcement of fuel used by aircraft is outside of the city of San Diego’s authority,” said city Supervising Public Information Officer Arian Collins. “By federal law, such authority is with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration, respectively.”
Ian Gregor, FAA communications manager, said the leaded fuel issue is being studied.
“The FAA is working closely with aviation associations, aircraft and piston engine manufacturers, fuel suppliers, and the Environmental Protection Agency to research and evaluate unleaded alternatives to leaded aviation gasoline,” said Gregor. “Critical research is taking place through the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI) at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. PAFI expects to provide, before the end of the year, an update on when it plans to complete testing and issue final reports.”
The unleaded Avgas that the FAA is currently testing could eventually be used by 100 percent of piston driven planes when it is finally approved. The unleaded UL94 that is already certified by the FAA can be used by almost all GA planes immediately, however, the city doesn’t offer it.
Other MGEC members and their supporters weighed in with their Montgomery-Gibbs Airport concerns.
“Awareness is a big key,” said Quentin Yates, of Clairemont, about the leaded fuel issue. “Lead actually falls on schools, hospitals, businesses and homes,” while adding, “unfortunately, lead just doesn’t go away.”
“Our goal right now is to raise awareness,” said recent City Council candidate Matt Valenti. “Every time we raise the lead issue — people tell us they can’t do anything about it, that’s for the FAA to regulate.”
Marcelo Bermann, of Kearny Mesa, said airport noise in the area has gotten decidedly worse.
“Sometimes I have 12 to 14 airplanes making racket flying over my backyard — it’s unconscionable,” Bermann said, pointing out there are only two flight paths planes from Montgomery-Gibbs can take over Kearny Mesa.
“The tower does not give the pilot any direction either way,” he said. “So the pilots tend to choose the civilian lower-altitude direction, subjecting the neighborhood to their noise and pollution.”
Joel Pointon, of Clairemont, who was on the Airport Master Plan Advisory Committee, pointed out Montgomery-Gibbs Airport “has a ground-based monitoring system that records airplane noise levels at ground level, so there’s no way to determine whether noise levels are being exceeded at the airport. The problem is that even though there is a noise monitoring system in place, very few times for exceeding the noise limit are issued. The city appparently thinks a warning is sufficient, but the noise problem continues.”
MGEC member Susan Taylor has been a neighbor of Montgomery-Gibbs Airport for 50 years. “People need to know more about this airport expansion, it’s a big one,” she said. “It’s going to really help to have people paying attention about the noise, the lead (exposure) and the (runway) expansion. It feels like the neighborhood is degrading.”
MGEC has an existing Facebook page and a website under construction. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The message we want to get out to the communities is that there are environmental issues that aren’t being addressed, like noise and leaded fuel,” concluded Valenti. “Those top the list of our concerns, which include safety.”
Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport is a public-use airport owned and operated by the city of San Diego and its Airports Division, a branch of the city’s Real Estate Assets Department, which oversees operations at all city-owned airports.
Montgomery-Gibbs is home to a number of facilities providing an array of aeronautical services including fueling, hangaring, tie-down and parking, aircraft rental, aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, hangar rentals, air charter and medical transport.
The city’s Airports Division has embarked on a master planning process to define the vision to guide airport development at both Montgomery-Gibbs and Brown Field airports for the next 20 years.
When finished, the airport master plan update for Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport will include reports of existing and future conditions, as well as providing airport layout plans and a schedule of priorities and funding sources for any proposed improvements.
—Freelance writer Dave Schwab can be reached at email@example.com.