August 01, 2019The Laconia Airport Authority is looking to change the flight travel pattern for one runway due to pilots' fears about flying too close to Locke's Hill, starting the application process with the federal government.
Selectman Chan Eddy sits on the Laconia Airport Authority and he said during Wednesday's selectmen's meeting that the Authority discussed this at a recent meeting.
Eddy said the airport had been getting complaints from some pilots, especially the ones who operate turboprop planes, that they have to "thread the needle" and go between Locke's Hill and Sagamore Hill. The Airport Authority voted in favor of filling out a form with the FAA to do an assessment of the risks of that traffic pattern and the possibility of changing it.
Airport Manager Marv Everson said air traffic control will typically direct planes, notably turboprop planes, in a left hand pattern over the lake. For those approaching on Runway 2-6 that flight pattern comes close to Locke's Hill. Another big concern is flying any plane on that pattern at night, Everson said approaching towards Locke's Hill at night scares a lot of pilots.
"They do not feel safe making that turn at night not knowing how close they are to that obstruction," Everson said.
There are warning lights on but that's not enough to allay any fears.
Eddy said those who fly smaller aircrafts will do a pattern to avoid Locke's Hill and those coming over the water have to dodge the hill.
The new pattern to Runway 2-6 would be a righthand pattern that would follow Runway 8 and Runway 8 would also be on a righthand pattern for safety. This would only effect landings and would not impact takeoffs and takeoffs would still be over the area of Lily Pond.
Eddy said the FAA would make any decisions and this wasn't in the hands of the selectmen. Everson said, however, if the selectmen had a significant opposition to this change that would factor in the decision.
If the form is filled out with the government Everson said it could take within six months for any decision. This process may involve public hearings.
The question was raised if this would impact businesses and residents. Everson said the lefthand pattern was put in place at a time when there were fewer homes around the Gunstock side of the airport, now it doesn't effect one side more than the other.
A few residents who live near Ellacoya said they would prefer it if the pattern was changed.
Steve Rabinovitz said his neighborhood is getting buzzed by planes regularly and planes tend to go low before making their final approach. He said he would be in favor of moving the approach to what it used to be.
"I feel this new plan would be a benefit to some of the other homeowners on that side of the lake as well as making it safer in order to control traffic," Rabinovitz said. "I'm in favor as a resident."
Dennis Didonna said he has extensive flight experience, having served as a commercial airline pilot and flying his own personal plane with his own hangar at the airport.
"I never could understand for all the years I've been here and have a hangar why we had a left hand pattern for Runway 2-6," Didonna said.
He said pilots will often choose the pattern of approach that they feel is the safest. He said a highly regarded airline pilot also said in a report for the airport master plan that the lefthand approach was unsafe.
Additionally Didonna said requirements to get a pilot's license involves making a cross-country flight at night. Because the Laconia Airport is so close to pilots in training from Keene to Nashua there are a lot of inexperienced pilots coming into the Laconia Airport and making that approach.
"I fear as a professional pilot that were gonna lose somebody one of these days over those hills," Didonna said. "There are red lights over there, but they're hard to see."
Didonna said he was in favor of changing that pattern.
"It's much safer, it's quicker, it's easier, and I don't want to lose somebody, some student pilot, in the middle of the night because he's confused," Didonna said. "I'm all for it."
The selectman had no objections at the moment to the application.
"We're going to be relying on you guys for your expertise and Chan is the selectmen's representative so he'll keep us informed," said board Chair Richard Grenier.