Local, federal officials consider future of South Valley Regional Airport

Chaffetz says it needs to be improved or shut down

Published: Saturday, Sept. 18 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

The South Valley Regional Airport, also known as Airport No. 2, in West Jordan.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — City leaders have enlisted the help of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to address safety concerns related to South Valley Regional Airport.

One way to restore West Jordan residents' peace of mind, Chaffetz said, is to close the airport.

"They've had a couple accidents recently, and there's a real safety concern," Chaffetz said Friday in a telephone interview with the Deseret News. "I believe that West Jordan should explore the possibility of asking Salt Lake City to close the airport."

There have been two plane crashes in the past three months at the single-runway airport, including the June 26 accident that killed Quinn Michael Falk, 34, of Cottonwood Heights. Falk was flying the airplane that pulled the Salt Lake Bees' banner when the plane lost power and nosedived.

Last month, the airport briefly was shut down after a small plane's landing gear failed and the plane ended up on its side. Both occupants of the aircraft were uninjured, but fire crews were dispatched to clean up oil leaking from the plane.

"The airport is located in the middle of our city, and there is very little buffer," West Jordan Mayor Melissa Johnson said. "If there were to be an accident at the airport, a collision of some sort, we would have the possibility of debris falling on our residents."

Of particular concern, Johnson said, is the airport's proximity to the West Jordan Soccer Complex.

"The largest soccer complex in the state is located practically adjacent to that airport," she said. "And the flight paths into that airport fly right over those soccer fields that are in use seven days a week."

The West Jordan City Council has made improving safety at the airport one of its priorities for 2010, but taking steps to meet that goal has been difficult. The roughly 900-acre airport is owned and operated by the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, which takes all decision making out of the hands of West Jordan officials.

Johnson and other West Jordan leaders have met with Salt Lake City officials to express their concerns and make their case for having an air traffic control tower built at South Valley Regional, an action Johnson said would greatly improve safety. However, it would require expansion of the West Jordan airport to accommodate the 100,000 operations per year in order to receive federal funding for such a project. The airport currently attracts about 80,000 operations per year, West Jordan city officials said.

Expansion of the airport has its own set of problems. Because of its location in the Salt Lake Valley, with mountain ranges to the east and west, all approaches to South Valley Regional Airport are north-south and line up with Salt Lake City International Airport. As a result, pilots seeking permission to land in West Jordan must get clearance from Salt Lake International.

"Most people would conclude that the status quo (of South Valley Regional Airport) is not sustainable long term," Chaffetz said. "They either need to expand the airport and have it truly grow into something, or let's shut it down and change it into something else. I happen to think that shutting it down might be the best long-term strategy."

South Valley Regional Airport supports business-related flights, law enforcement flying services, recreational flying, flight training, air charters and the transport of mail and newspapers. A Utah National Guard Army Aviation Support facility also is housed on the airfield.

Chaffetz said other Utah airports would welcome the National Guard presence.

"Provo, in particular, has expressed a lot of interest in having an expanding airport," he said.

The Provo Airport, a general-aviation airfield on the west edge of Provo, is positioned next to Utah Lake and thus doesn't have the encroachment issues of South Valley Regional, he said.

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