Churchville Airport upgrades should not be allowed to have a major impact on the surrounding area [Commentary]


The plan to substantially expand the Harford County Airport at Churchville in terms of runway capacity and number of flights per day has resurfaced, though in a more subdued form than had been pursued a little more than a decade ago.

In short, the plan involves roughly doubling the width of the main runway to 75 feet and extending it by 1,000 feet to 3,200 feet, while closing two ancillary runways. Buildings on the property would also be upgraded.

With a substantial portion of the airport on agricultural land, the Harford County Council made changes to the zoning regulations for agricultural districts to facilitate planned changes – thus allowing the airport owners to avoid the costly and oftentimes contentious process of having major upgrades approved through the county zoning appeals process.

The owners of the airport are proposing increasing the number of flights per day using the small airport. Depending on the scope of the changes, the increased flights could result in a substantial change to the peace and quiet of the surrounding area. At present, the airport is home to privately held planes ranging from ultralight craft used by weekend hobbyists, to stunt fliers, to more utilitarian planes. The airport is used regularly, but there are no regularly scheduled flights, and the surrounding communities have never been subjected to the level of use associated with small- to mid-size airports that host small commercial airlines.

The planned changes at the airport seem to be in the realm of modernizations to make the facility more useful to a broader range of the same kinds of airplane owners who use it now, which is something of a contrast from what was being considered the last time an expansion at the airport was broached.

In that round, the vision was to open the Army's Phillips Air Field to some commercial uses and substantially expand the Churchville airport for use as a backup. Since the 9/11 terror attacks, however, the option of opening Phillips to non-military uses has been off the table.

Those living in close proximity to the airport would still do well to keep abreast of expansions of the facility. While the airport has been there since the 1950s, it has been a low key operation, so people could have moved in with the expectation that a low key operation would continue.

It is reasonable to expect a small airport would be modernized over the years to accommodate new technology, but it isn't necessarily reasonable to expect people living near the airport to tolerate major increases in noise, or reduced safety buffers between the airport's property and their own.

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