In Our View: Lots of Drama at Pearson

'Go it alone' museum set to re-open; airspace restriction proposal dropped

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upporters of Pearson Air Museum and Pearson Field (common sense tells us that should include all local citizens) received two messages last week from the federal government. The first announcement drew a forehead-smacking "You gotta be kiddin' me!" response from many folks, while the second elicited a "Whew! That was close."

Both emotions are understandable, considering how frayed relationships have become recently between our community and the federal government.

First, National Park Service officials on Tuesday announced they would re-open the air museum under federal management, with new exhibits, presumably most of them borrowed from other sites. Pearson supporters and officials -- who emptied the museum earlier this month because of a management dispute with the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site -- scoffed at the NPS announcement. They also bristled at the NPS invitation to move old aircraft and other exhibits back into the museum hangar. "No way in hell," said local pilot Juan Brito, who owns a historic aircraft that had been featured at the museum when it was operated by Fort Vancouver National Trust. "I guess that's the best way to put it," he added. "I wouldn't put something that's extremely valuable to me in the hands of somebody who has no respect for agreements."

Second, it was announced on Thursday that the Federal Aviation Administration has dropped a controversial airspace regulation proposal that would have severely and unnecessarily restricted general aviation aircraft that routinely operate out of Pearson Field. For several months, FAA officials had threatened to impose the dreaded "Pearson box" rule, which would have created an area one mile wide by six miles long, with Pearson pilots forced to yield to Portland International Airport flights.

The concern for safety was laudable, but more convincing was the fact that private and public aircraft have operated together at Pearson and PDX for decades with no major incident. The FAA announced the proposal last September, and a delay was secured in November. Then, the FAA did what the federal government does so well: appointed a special panel to review the situation. Finally, as Eric Florip reported in a Friday Columbian story, officials with Pearson airport and the city of Vancouver received word from the FAA that the proposed restrictions had been dropped, and the infamous "Pearson box" idea had been shot down.

Credit is due to local elected officials -- both city and federal -- who convinced the FAA to back off.

Let us all hope National Park Service officials likewise come to their senses and do the right thing for Pearson Air Museum. Turn the land over to the city of Vancouver so that the museum can be locally managed, as it was for years to the consternation of no one except the hierarchy at the National Historic Site and the NPS. Pearson Air Museum should be operated by the people who have loved it for years, not by federal bureaucrats.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, who wrote the pending legislation calling for the land transfer, correctly said of the NPS plan to re-open the museum: "Rather than 'go it alone,' the Park Service should be working to bridge its differences with the trust and the city."

Once that happens -- if that happens -- there are a bunch of private pilots who are eager to move their historic planes back into the museum. And there's a spirited community that is eager to restore Pearson Air Museum to its rightful place of honor, respect and popularity.