No details from Navy on airport use

Published 11:07 am Saturday, October 16, 2010

An E-2C Hawkeye assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120 lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. -- MCSN Kevin J. Steinberg/ U.S. Navy Photographer

FRANKLIN—Two weeks after the Navy announced its plans to use the Franklin airport for practice landings of two types of turboprop aircraft, details remain scarce, officials say.

“We really don’t have anything yet to know exactly how it’s going to shape up, so we’re not quite sure what the economic benefits are going to end up being,” Franklin Mayor Jim Councill said Thursday.

The Navy wants to conduct touch-and-go landings for the E-2 Hawkeye, an early-warning-system aircraft, and the C-2 Greyhound, which is used for logistical purposes. The Navy hopes to achieve initial operating capability at the airport by January 2012.

Councill said the Navy plans a “fly day” on Wednesday, Oct. 27, when planes will fly the anticipated training pattern so residents can get a feel for the noise and other effects. In case of rain, the demonstration will be held Thursday, Oct. 28.

When the federal government deeded the Isle of Wight County airport to the then town of Franklin in 1947, it retained the right to use the airport for operations without charge.

“They’ve been very appropriate about that,” Councill said. “Even though they have the legal access, what they want to do is make sure they compensate the city for services rendered and for any interruptions in services or revenue that might occur because of their use of the airport.”

It’s not yet clear what services the Navy would require from the city, Councill said.

City Attorney Taylor Williams said Thursday the city has “had talks” with the Navy, but formal negotiations on services and compensation have not started.

Across the Blackwater River in Isle of Wight, county officials also are waiting to hear specifics of the Navy’s plans.

“We are really at the front end of trying to get some information from the Navy so that we can work with them to make sure that the impact on our community is a positive impact,” said county spokesman Don Robertson. “If there are any negative impacts, we certainly want to minimize those to the degree that we can.”

“Whether or not there’s some financial opportunity, none of us really know that yet,” Robertson said.

Phillip Bradshaw, chairman of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors, said a team of county officials is gathering information on the issue to share with citizens. He noted concerns about possible effects on emergency services in the southern end of the county.

“We are working on a regional basis together with the city of Franklin and Southampton County since it will have an impact on all three localities,” Bradshaw said.

Ted Brown, a media relations officer for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said turboprop aircraft are “much quieter” than jets.

He said the sound exposure in the landing pattern for the C-2 and E-2 aircraft is approximately 89 decibels, compared with 100 decibels for an ambulance siren from 100 feet or 96 decibels for a power lawn mower from 3 feet.

Brown said the Navy plans to complete about 40,000 “operations” over a 12-month period. Takeoffs, landings, approaches and departures are counted as separate operations, he said. The Navy wants to complete fewer than 20,000 touch-and-gos at the airport annually.

Training would occur about 200 days per year, depending on the deployment schedule of ships at Naval Station Norfolk.

“There will be times of busy operations that will typically be followed by a time of a few or no operations,” he said. “Whenever possible, we will strive to complete our operations each day by 10 p.m.”

The practice flights will simulate landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier, which Brown said is “the most difficult thing to do in aviation.”

Rick Ivey, who lives on North High Street in Franklin, said he isn’t necessarily opposed to the Navy’s using the airport but has questions about noise and safety issues.

“While these aircraft individually may make no more noise than a King Air, according to the mayor, there will be several of these at any time circling overhead, accelerating and decelerating, five to seven nights a week, as late as necessary, 52 weeks a year,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I hope the city manager and the mayor and others involved have not given short shrift to those considerations for the sake of short-term gain.”

Ivey and other concerned citizens aren’t alone, according to Councill.

“We had the very same concerns and would not have pursued any kind of relationship had we not gotten some satisfaction that it appeared that it would be beneficial without doing any harm to the citizens,” he said.

Lucille Jenkins lives in Beaver Brook Manor, a community in Isle of Wight just across Route 258 from the airport. She isn’t pleased with the prospect of the Navy using the facility for training.

“I’m not for it at all,” she said, adding that the current airport traffic is “bad enough.”

“These helicopters, sometimes when they go down over that road, you think they’re going to crash,” she said.

Robertson said most of the residents he’s heard from aren’t necessarily against the plan but want more information.

“We intend to make sure that we protect the interests of the impacted citizens in that community,” he said. “I don’t think the Navy is going to come in and be a bad partner in this; I think they want to do the right thing as well. It’s just a matter of determining what, if any, impact there’s going to be and who’s going to try to address those impacts.”

Councill said public meetings will be scheduled and information from the Navy will be passed on to the public.

“We will be as transparent and as quick about that as we possibly can,” he said.