Craig airport operators sue city over runway extension

Suit claims the airport is a safety hazard without a longer runway
Two businesses at Jacksonville’s Craig Municipal Airport are hoping a federal court will do what the City Council would not: allow a runway to be lengthened another thousand feet.
A longer runway would accommodate larger planes, potentially increasing traffic — and profits — for the dozen or so businesses that call the Arlington airport home.
Craig Air Center Inc. and Sky Harbor Corp. are the airport’s two fixed-base operators, providing services like fuel, parking and tie-downs for airplanes that are based at the facility or land there.
The companies’ lawsuit against the city, filed Jan. 20, claims the airport, which has two 4,000-foot runways, is a safety hazard without a longer runway and doesn’t meet federal standards.
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority master plan for Craig calls for one runway to be extended to 5,600 feet, and the agency’s board has tried for years to get the project started. Each time, the City Council stepped in to block the efforts.
A vocal group of homeowners living in neighborhoods near the airport have lobbied hard against the runway project, arguing that the city has promised for years that the runway wouldn’t be touched.
They’ve been aided by Bill Bishop and Clay Yarborough, the council members representing Arlington.
“This has been going on for 40 years,” Bishop said of the controversy.
The airport was built by the military to provide a training ground for pilots during World War II. After the war, both Craig and Herlong airports were donated to the city and converted to general aviation facilities.
Located on St. Johns Bluff Road at the Atlantic Boulevard intersection, Craig is home to pilot training schools and charter flight services. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the city’s Mosquito Control Division house aircraft there.
In 2009, there were 107,759 takeoffs and landings at the facility, according to the JAA.
The city’s Comprehensive Plan currently has a restriction in place that keeps Craig’s runways at 4,000 feet. But the lawsuit asks for the restrictions to be thrown out, arguing that FAA safety requirements override any city law. Under the federal standard, the main runway needs to be at least 5,000 feet long to be considered safe.
Bishop claims the safety argument is a red herring.
“It’s a business decision, pure and simple,” he said. “There is no question at all if the runway were larger more and larger jets would fly there and would require more and expensive services” that would benefit the companies that filed suit.
Attorney David Wells, who represents the companies, said Craig’s future is at stake.
If the runway was extended, modern planes that are safer, quieter and bigger would be able to use the airport, he said.
“It’s safer for planes landing; it’s safer for planes taking off; it’s safer for the neighbors,” Wells said.
One airport businessman agrees.
“Everyone has heard that safety is the primary reason [for a longer runway], and it couldn’t be more simple than that,” said Erik Jones, general manager of North Florida Flight Training.
“There are lots of planes that can’t even get in there because of how short the runway is.”
Chief Deputy General Counsel Cindy Laquidara declined to comment on the suit.
Mayor John Peyton favors lengthening the runway.
Peyton’s spokeswoman, Misty Skipper, said safety concerns cited by JAA are “a compelling reason” to support the project.
Even though the JAA board favors the extension, the agency itself isn’t taking sides, Executive Director Steven Grossman said.
Grossman said he’s familiar with the “aviation reasons” behind lengthening Craig’s runway but wants to talk to members of the community who have rallied in opposition.
“Once I understand that, I’ll have a better idea what the opportunities may be for us to work together on this,” he said.


For the past 40 years Craig Municipal Airport Operators have been trying to extend the runways to0 accommodate more larger and corporate jets. Not only are longer runways safer, but they would also accommodate more traffic and therefore an influx in the Arlington Area economy. This influx in the economy includes profits for local businesses and tax revenue to the area.
The current runways are 4,004 ft and 4,008 ft. constant proposals to lengthen the main runway are from 5,600 ft to 6,000 ft. Not only will a 6,000 ft runway bring in more local corporate traffic, it can also accommodate a Bombardier CRJ-200, an airliner commonly flown by Atlantic Southeast Airlines under Delta out of Jacksonville International. This can save passengers gas money, as opposed to driving all the way to the north side of Jacksonville and therefore would increase their purchasing power in the local market.

The Airport Operators have taken the time, money and other resources to sue the city in an effort to lengthen these runways, and 1,600 ft of asphalt is not cheap. How would you go about determining how the marginal benefit of longer runways compares to the marginal cost?
In order to set up the equation MB=MC you must understand the costs associated with the lengthening the runway: trees to cut down, land to flatten, asphalt to lay, amendments to airport publications, court costs for suing the city, opportunity costs of time given up by the parties suing. These parties suing must have foreseen greater benefit from longer runways than the cost of all the efforts involved with lengthening the runways.

What types of businesses would benefit from longer runways at Craig Municipal?
All types of firms would benefit from the runway extension. This is not just about the Fixed-Base Operators at the airport profiting. From local restaurants to the Regency Mall, many firms will benefit from outside visitors to the area as well as raise tax revenue for the city.

The Airport Managers also fought (and won) to have the name changed from “Craig Municipal Airport” to “Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport”, how do you think this changes things in the economy as well?
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority spent $155,000 in re-branding the local airports, they believe changing the name of Craig Municipal will attract businesses that are looking to fly to Jacksonville. With the difference in the name businesses can now associate “Jacksonville Executive” with Jacksonville as opposed to trying to figure out where this “Craig Municipal” is. No firm purposefully invests without the possibility of seeing a return on their investment, so the re-branding campaign must project to bring in more than $155,000 in revenue to the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

A major concern for residents in the area is noise pollution. How much do you think people living near the airport actually value their utility of less noise than a larger runway would bring?
Noise restrictions are currently in place at the airport. The real concern for people living near the airport is the decline in property value.

by Jim Washburn