Check the numbers; The long and the short of airport safety

Suddenly, a new idea has sprouted wings: Make the two runways at the Venice Municipal Airport shorter so they won't be suitable for jet traffic.

Airport Advisory Board member Jim Leis says he will ask the board to consider that idea. The board, which meets today, should study the proposal to determine whether it's the best way to ensure safe use of the airport, protect the environment and allow some development on airport land.

Leis says he discussed the idea Monday with City Manager Marty Black. In an e-mail yesterday, Black said shortening the two 5,000-foot runways is worth considering. He wrote that "a vast majority of residents and property owners" do not want runway protection zones extended beyond the airport's boundaries.

The city's draft airport plan calls for runways long enough to handle jets and runway protection zones over areas where there are homes, roads and public beaches.

Many residents are concerned about the plan's impacts on safety, noise and recreational facilities and homes on the airport property and nearby.

When Venice submits an updated airport master plan to the Federal Aviation Administration, the plan should reflect the public interest, include a local analysis of safety measures and be based on accurate data.

Yesterday, we identified some of the safety issues for the advisory panel to consider today. The board should also review numbers in the draft plan.

For example, the draft plan says the airport has a combined 172,835 annual takeoffs and landings. City Councilman Rick Tacy said at a June 12 council meeting that when he eats breakfast at the airport's Cockpit Cafe he sees few planes take off or land. "There's just no way" the figure in the plan is accurate, Tacy said.

Gerry Bandy, an airport consultant hired by the city, told Tacy at that meeting, "I'm not going to argue with you that the traffic counts are excessive."

Somebody in city government -- starting with the Airport Advisory Board -- needs to argue for accurate traffic counts.

The draft plan also estimates that, annually, the two runways each handle more than 1,000 takeoffs or landings by large planes that fit an FAA "C-II" design criteria. This estimate needs further substantiation in order to inform good decision-making.

Today, and in the future, the advisory board should insist on the most accurate air-traffic counts possible and continue to focus on the safety impacts of any proposed plan for Venice Municipal Airport.