Navy planes training in Franklin

Published 9:00 am Friday, July 8, 2011

FRANKLIN—Twice the City Council voted against considering the Navy’s use of Franklin Municipal Airport for pilot training.

Yet, the Navy can still use the airport, just like its pilots did on Tuesday and Thursday, said City Manager June Fleming.

“I have had calls that the Navy planes were seen there on Tuesday,” Fleming said. “That’s not unusual. They have always exercised their option to use that field. They have used it before and are continuing to do it.”

Cmdr. Philip Rosi with the Naval-Air Force Atlantic in Norfolk confirmed that one plane used the Franklin airport on Tuesday and Thursday.

“The training events included several touch-and-goes,” Rosi said.

He explained that the Navy can use the Franklin airport and other municipal and commercial airports for day and night training under Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

“Public airfields, which include general aviation and commercial airports, are available for government aircraft to use,” Rosi said. “They are used on an as needed basis.”

When asked why the Navy had hoped to enter into a contract with the City of Franklin to provide pilot training here, he said, “that’s a different process and different issue.”

“I can only talk to the current issue,” Rosi said.

Another Navy spokesman, who wished not to be identified, said the proposed contract with the city would’ve involved three-hour periods of training and making physical changes to the airport.

“This is different,” he said, noting the Navy can use any airport it wants if needed.

The council, over the mayor’s objections, voted 5-2 in February to end consideration of the Navy project, which would have used the city’s airport in Isle of Wight County for touch-and-go training of turboprop pilots who carry people and cargo to carriers at sea.

The matter came before council in late April for a second time. It was voted down again.

The Navy in mid-June indicated it was looking at the Emporia-Greensville Regional Airport as a site for pilot training. It’s the same program proposed for Franklin.

The environmental assessment will take about a year to complete, at which point, the Navy could begin negotiations for use of the airport.

Franklin Mayor Jim Coucill said Thursday he had heard about the activity at the airport on Tuesday.

“I didn’t know anything about it until someone called,” Councill said. “Nobody called. They don’t have to. They can use it anytime they have access to it.”