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Commentary: In airport matters, where is sense of fair play?

By Hut Hutson

April 15, 2006

Editor's note: While airport issues are primarily relevant to residents of north Tempe, where the bulk of landings occur, south Tempe also is increasingly affected by the ongoing expansion of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. This column by Hut Hutson, a member of the Tempe City Council and chairman of the council's Finance and Aviation Subcommittee, touches on a subject of potential interest to all residents of Tempe.

Much has been made of the recent discussions between Tempe and Phoenix about the height of planned buildings near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Our neighbor to the west contends that all the hoopla is largely an issue of passenger safety. Yet I see things differently – I see this as fundamentally about fair play.

Tempe is concerned first and foremost about the safety of air travelers – we all are. If a plane ever experiences the loss of an engine and needs to get back to the airport after takeoff, we want that airline to be able to execute its “engine out” plan flawlessly and safely.

My position is that the real story behind our current discussions is about one thing: economic development. Phoenix’s downtown is in the midst of a revival, with projects under way and planned in the residential, retail, educational and office sectors. Problem is, that momentum is colliding with Tempe’s own booming downtown.

Rather than competing to execute shared agendas, we should be reasonable. But:

Is it reasonable that, in 2001, the FAA declared Tempe’s proposed Arizona Cardinals stadium site a hazard, while never issuing a similar warning about Chase Field?

Is it reasonable that Sky Harbor says that Tempe’s planned Centerpoint Condominiums are an “engine out” hazard, but that Collier Tower in Phoenix has never been declared a hazard?

Is it reasonable to conclude that “A” Mountain in Tempe (which is in the flight path) is not a hazard, but that the proposed 30-story Centerpoint towers are dangerous, though they are not in the flight path?

Is it reasonable for Phoenix to consider a development north of Symphony Hall that features 500-foot towers, but unreasonable for Tempe to consider a proposal for 343-foot towers?

Is it reasonable for Phoenix to consider as safe a Southwest Airlines engine-out procedure that goes over downtown Tempe when all other airlines – who devise their own engine-out plans – have a procedure that sends engine-out aircraft north and east?

Is it reasonable for Sky Harbor’s director to directly communicate with Tempe developers, demanding that they cease and desist on a project when no building permit has been issued and no construction has been started?

Bottom line: Tempe cares about the safety of the flying public as much as any other community. But let’s approach this issue from a level playing field, with rules that apply to all.

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