AOPA has voiced its opposition to the mayor and city manager of Galveston, Texas, regarding a proposal that would hold a Grand-Prix-style race on part of Scholes International Airport. The race is not a good or proper use of airport facilities in that it would negatively affect the normal general aviation operations, wrote John Collins, AOPA manager of airport policy, in an Oct. 16 letter.
George Gould, the Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer at Scholes informed AOPA staff that a race promoter was trying to sell the city of Galveston on hosting the race at the airport.
Initial race plans included closing Runway 18/36, a large portion of the ramp and parallel taxiway, as well as using an old runway/taxiway on the north end of the airport as part of the course. Grandstands, visitor areas, and racecar staging areas would be located in front of the hangar area and the Lone Star Flight Museum, which would restrict access to those areas of the airport. Aircraft based at the airport would not be able to leave their hangars during the event.
The FAA Southwest Region Airports Office advised the race sponsor that it must reach out to the airport users and get their input on how the race will affect their normal use of the airport. The agency also expressed concerns about the race course using Runway 18/36 up to the intersection of Runway 14/32, which prompted the promoter to shorten that leg of the race.
AOPA Airport Support Network Director Joey Colleran attended the public meeting held at the airport on Oct. 23. The racing representative and Mayor Lewis Rosen faced a packed room of pilots and airport users who, after voicing their concerns, were rebuffed. AOPA is urging the city to not hold the Grand Prix at the airport, on one of the city’s best transportation assets.
AOPA is concerned that the race will impede normal operations at the airport for several weeks prior to the race and about a week after the event, noting that helicopters that service the oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico stage and operate on the ramp where the race wants to go.
Another concern is that infrastructure created for the race, even temporary in nature, may create height and obstruction hazards to aircraft operating at the airport. “It is extremely important that the safety of flight is not compromised by building galleries and light-stands to gain a better view the races,” Collins wrote. “The safety of the public must be assured as well, since they will be on an active airport ramp and the temptation may be great to look at the airport. But they must not be allowed into an area with active aircraft taxiing, landing and taking off.”
There are other airports that are able to accommodate racing events on the airport without significant impact on general aviation operations and the races have been a benefit to the airport, said Collins. “Unfortunately at Galveston, the geometry of the airport doesn’t lend itself to the same level of safety and access. An airport’s first and best use is as an airport.”