Also: Airport to add hangars, wait on terminal building.
The Flagler Executive Airport has come up with a new strategy to deter pilots from flying too low over residential areas, especially at night: tracking every incoming and outgoing plan a through program called "Virtower," which records the planes' speed, elevation and trajectory, creating an easy-to-cite record that the airport can hold against pilots whose behavior violates the airport's guidelines and irritates residents.
"I can pull this up and show them a screenshot of exactly what they're doing at the airport."
— ROY SIEGER, airport director, on using tracking software to enforce the airport's noise abatement guidelines
Airport director Roy Sieger briefed the County Commission on the new program during the commission's April 5 meeting.
The airport, he said, convened a working group to develop a noise abatement strategy that combines the use of the software with a set of voluntary procedures for pilots — as a public airport, it can't make the procedures mandatory — that include halting training flights from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and until 9 a.m. on Sundays and national holidays.
The guidelines also set the normal traffic pattern altitude at 1,033 feet, among other measures.
"We looked across other airports across the state to see what they were doing," Sieger said. Airport staff are also creating a pamphlet to hand out to new visitors.
Using the large video screens in the commission's meeting chambers, Sieger pulled up an image of the Virtower aircraft tracking screen.
“As you can see, the airport is surrounded by noise-sensitive areas," he said, pointing out residential streets like Zinnia Court, the source of many resident noise complaints.
The readout, he explained, showed that 48 operations had already been conducted at the airport that morning, starting at 7:35 a.m. One plane had landed late the night before, at 11:54 p.m.
"We have the aircraft number; we can identify that back to a flight school and remind them," Sieger said.
The tracking system also allows the airport to check the veracity of a complaint — for instance, one resident recently complained about an aircraft buzzing their house, but tracking data showed that the plane was at 1,100 feet, within its rights. Likewise, if a pilot insists they were following the guidelines, the airport can check that, too.
"I can pull this up and show them a screenshot of exactly what they're doing at the airport," Sieger said.
Airport to add hangars, wait on terminal building
For years, Sieger has wanted to add a new general aviation terminal at the airport. The terminal has been designed, and was expected to be built this year.
But with airport revenue down due to COVID-19, Sieger presented the County Commission with a new strategy: Delaying the terminal building by a year and instead adding more hangars that would be rented out to tenants.
Constructing the hangars would cost $560,000, Sieger said, but they would turn a profit that would help repay the loan needed for the terminal.
"We have 90 people — probably more now — waiting on our list to get a T-hangar," Sieger said. "We will fill up these T-hangars before they’re built, guaranteed."
The Florida Department of Transportation has committed to funding 80% of the cost of the $6.5 million terminal building, Sieger said, so the airport would have to come up with about $1.3 million.
The hangars, he said, are money-makers. The airport has 56 already, and Sieger was proposing to build 42 more.
"He’s creating an income stream that will support the debt for this portion of the terminal building," County Administrator Jerry Cameron told commissioners. "It’s fiduciary responsibility, is what this plan is."
Commissioners approved Sieger's proposal.