The Healdsburg City Council on Monday unanimously approved a controversial application for a flight school at the municipal airport, despite the concerns of neighboring residents worried about increased noise, pollution and the possibility of aviation accidents.
“He isn't somebody who is going to let dangerous things happen over the skies of Healdsburg,” Councilman Shaun McCaffrey said of the application by Robert Markword of Ram Aviation. “This isn't going to become Healdsburg International.”
The council heard from approximately 30 speakers who were evenly divided over whether to approve or reject Markword's small flight school.
“The reality is we (will) have better control of this flight school than others that visit our airport,” said Councilman Gary Plass, who noted student pilots for years have come from other airports to practice touch-and-go landings in Healdsburg.
Opponents argued the increased flights and noise will lessen the quality of life and adversely affect property values as well as tourism in Dry Creek Valley.
But pilots said rather than being a threat, a flight school can be helpful by promoting safe operations and adherence to noise abatement procedures.
Student pilots said it is much easier for a beginning pilot to land and take off from an uncontrolled airport such as Healdsburg, as opposed to a controlled field like Santa Rosa.
Markword currently offers pilot ground school instruction and flight simulator training at the Healdsburg Airport off Lytton Springs Road but wants to add flight instruction and airplane rental to his business.
He plans to charter up to five planes and conduct up to 10 flights a day, with two operations per month at night, up to midnight.
The airport has been in existence since 1945. It was leased to the city in 1964 and known as the Norton Sky Ranch before the city bought it in 1979.
There currently are 55 aircraft at the airport and just under 13,000 operations a year.