UPDATE: Pearson Field airspace restriction dropped

FAA allows current relationship with PDX to continue

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: February 21, 2013, 7:47 PM

 

The Federal Aviation Administration has dropped a controversial airspace restriction over Vancouver’s Pearson Field, handing a victory to the city and others who lobbied­ against it.

The FAA notified the city of that decision this week, according to Pearson airport manager Willy Williamson. The move comes two months after the federal agency convened a special panel to review the shared airspace between Pearson and Portland International Airport. Ultimately, the panel decided to leave the arrangement basically unchanged.

“It really ended up being a win-win situation,” Williamson said, noting Pearson will continue to operate as is with the latest federal sign-off.

“That keeps the airport viable­, and it keeps tens of thousands of dollars coming to the local economy,” Williamson­ said.

Last September, the FAA floated a proposed rule change that would have restricted local flights in and out of Pearson. The so-called “Pearson box” rule would have created an area one mile wide by six miles long in which Pearson pilots would have to yield to larger airliners approaching PDX from the west.

FAA officials maintained that the proposal was crafted with safety in mind. But local pilots and others pushed back, forcing a delay of the proposed rule change before its planned October implementation. Members of the Northwest’s Congressional delegation also leaned on the FAA to put the brakes on the seemingly fast-tracked change.

That included U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, who praised this week’s developments.

“This resolution brings welcome relief for the local pilots, and the local businesses and workers supported by the economic activity from Pearson Air Field,” Herrera Beutler said in a released statement. “I appreciate the FAA’s willingness to reassess the safety and economic implications of its proposal, and consider more reasonable solutions.”

Pearson pilots and city officials argued the Pearson box idea would have created unnecessary delays and hazards if planes were pushed out of their airspace without guidance. It may have also squeezed flight instruction programs at the historic airport. Pearson and PDX have coexisted on opposite banks of the Columbia River for decades without incident, opponents of the rule change said.

Williamson has said he’d like Pearson to have its own permanent traffic control tower. But the FAA’s decision this week means that, too, won’t happen.

Pearson flights now communicate with air traffic controllers at PDX. The FAA installed a temporary tower at Pearson in 2011 while a PDX runway was under construction, but removed it when the project was done.

Though a permanent tower at Pearson likely won’t happen any time soon, Pearson users are happy with this week’s decision, said local pilot George Welsh. Most felt like their concerns were heard by the end of the FAA review process, he said, ultimately preserving the status quo.

“It took them a little while to come to that conclusion, but it’s one that we can all agree on,” Welsh said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

An FAA representative could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com