Originally created 02/12/99

FAA rejects proposal for Blue Angels



The Federal Aviation Administration has shot down the city's plan to bring the Blue Angels to Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field for a June air show because of the high potential for aircraft bird strikes.

Augusta Regional has been deemed by the FAA as a potential bird strike hazard area, according to David W. Shifflett, the FAA's principal operations inspector for the Atlanta flight standards district office.

City officials had planned to hold an air show at Bush Field June 19-20 honoring U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and retired U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.

But Mr. Shifflett determined that the airport is not a satisfactory site for high-performance military aircraft to conduct demonstration flights and wouldn't budge from that position despite urgings from Mayor Bob Young and airport manager Al McDill.

In his rejection, Mr. Shifflett resurrected the issue of the city's wastewater treatment project.

"Phinizy Swamp Ecopark and the Augusta wastewater treatment facility with settling ponds are located adjacent to the Bush Field Airport proper," Mr. Shifflett states in his response.

"The Augusta-Bush Field Airport averages nine aircraft bird strikes annually to aircraft in the normal air traffic patterns."

Mr. Shifflett referred city officials to an attached Dec. 18, 1997, letter from the FAA to then-Mayor Larry Sconyers. That letter expressed concerns about expansion of the EcoPark into a 1,030-acre wastewater treatment area becoming a wildlife attractant. The FAA also threatened to close down the airport if conditions became hazardous.

"For these reasons it is not a satisfactory site location for high-performance military aircraft to conduct demonstration flights," Mr. Shifflett states in the Jan. 28 response to the city's application.

Mr. McDill's response to Mr. Shifflett notes that the wetlands project currently consists of only two test cells and that there is no evidence of increased bird activity associated with them.

Mayor Bob Young said he personally discussed the issue with Mr. Shifflett, but Mr. Shifflett was "unwavering in his stand."

The mayor said he was "extremely disappointed" with the decision but won't give up efforts to get the Blue Angels here.

The city will re-apply and spend the next few months "working on the issues the FAA has objections to," Mr. Young said.

"One thing we will point out is that the number of bird strikes is very low. I believe it was nine last year, which is less than one a month. And we will be gathering data on the number of bird strikes at other airports where the Blue Angels have performed."

Mr. Young said that as a pilot himself he realizes the danger of bird strikes, and the city isn't inviting the Blue Angels to come to Augusta to "commit suicide."

"But we don't believe bird strikes on its face is a valid reason to deny our request to the FAA to allow the Blue Angels to perform in Augusta," he said.

"We have jet airplanes that come in and out of that airport every day. We have U.S. Air Force transport jets that practice their maneuvers at that field on a regular basis. We believe that birds and airplanes -- what birds there are -- peacefully co-exist with aircraft in Augusta."