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Community and airpark clash after fatal crash

airplaneROCKVILLE – After the Dec. 8 crash that killed six near the Montgomery County Airpark (GAI), the nearby community is still pushing for noise and safety mitigations that some say do not address the right issues.

The concerns arose on Jan. 28 at a meeting of the Airpark Liaison Committee, which the council formed in 1989 to meet on an as-needed basis.

In December, the community called for a review of the airpark operations after Michael Rosenberg, a licensed pilot from North Carolina, crashed an EMB-500 Phenom 100 jet into three houses on Drop Forge Lane less than a mile from his destination at the Montgomery County Airpark, runway 14.

Montgomery County Revenue Authority CEO Keith Miller told the committee he has met with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about their concerns, moved up the park’s annual Maryland Aviation Administration inspection and met with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, but representatives of the community wanted action sooner.

Retired airline transport pilot Harry Houckes, who lives in Virginia and is not part of the committee, suggested the committee form a panel to produce concrete recommendations for risk mitigation. Committee Chair Howard Layer said the committee meets only to discuss rather than recommend, but the County Council could form a panel like that.

“Until you do that we’re going around in circles,” Houckes said.

Miller said he would be willing to participate in a panel but agencies like the FAA may not be until the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has completed its investigation into the accident, which could take 6-12 months.

“As a matter of fact, the department of the FAA cautioned us at this point to not make any hasty changes because until we find out what the NTSB wants, we might find out the change we put into place was completely opposite of what they want,” Miller said.

But nearby resident Nancy Shenk still wanted some action before the NTSB finished its investigation and suggested a community meeting.

“I have a hard time waiting a year, six months to a year, when you have a community that has been so distraught over what happened in their community, and I think to wait a year is not giving that community a chance to really talk to the people they need to talk to,” she said.

Pilots in attendance said they felt some residents’ concerns had no connection to the crash. Pilot Deborah Dreyfuss said some of their concerns were “based on emotion, not facts.”

Robert Anderson, co-chair of the Airpark Concerned Citizens Alliance, said he wanted to downgrade the airpark from a reliever airport for Reagan National Airport. But Miller said a change in status would not stop jets from landing there.

Sandy Richardson-Poe, owner of the fixed base operator at the airpark, said the reliever status also does not mean air traffic controllers at major airports tell planes to land at GAI.

Richardson-Poe said pilots unfamiliar with the area also have to complete a FAA course on the landscape surrounding GAI in order to be able to land there.

Richardson-Poe and private pilot Joyce Breiner also said the pilots are not against making the airpark safer, but are not sure that could have prevented Rosenberg’s crash on Dec. 8.

“Pilots love flying. We want to be safe. We want to be good neighbors,” said Breiner, who said she used to work for the FAA as an air traffic controller.

Dreyfuss said she used to live in Derwood and remembers signing the required disclosure about the nearby airpark when she moved in. Others who live in the area now said the disclosure is on the forms but not prominently displayed.

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