Heber Valley Airport

An Objective Argument For Updating The Master Plan

I love Heber! I love the mountains, the clean air, the natural beauty, the night sky, the aspen trees, the beautiful lakes and the unlimited recreational opportunities located nearby. One other attribute that draws me in and distinguishes Heber’s quality of life, is its quiet, tranquil atmosphere.

It’s hard to keep a good secret. Those who first discovered gold in the Sierra Foothills in the 1840s had hoped to keep it quiet, but the world quickly learned of the discovery and descended on the area in great numbers.

Fast forward to 2019 and Heber’s quality of life is similarly no longer a secret — people from all over the world are moving to the Heber Valley and calling it home. 

Some who come to Heber do so via the Heber Valley Airport. It’s no coincidence that as interest in the Heber Valley and the surrounding areas has grown, operations at the airport have also grown. This has alarmed many who love our valley and believe airport operations have already adversely impacted Heber’s quiet, tranquil atmosphere. The thought goes something like this: more operations mean more air traffic, more noise and more pollution. 

The Heber City Council recently elected to commence an update of the airport’s master plan. This decision has led some to speculate about the purpose of the update and the city’s intentions. 

Chiefly, why would the city update the master plan if it didn’t intend to expand the airport?

A Plan, Not A Mandate

So, why has the city resolved to invest 18 to 24 months to update the airport’s master plan, and why is this important to the airport and the Heber community?

It’s important to first understand what an airport master plan is and what it is not. Simply put, a master plan can be thought of as a business plan. A business plan is a fundamental strategic tool that summarizes the operational and financial objectives of a business, and includes detailed plans and budgets showing how the objectives are to be realized. 

As such, the plan is a living, breathing document that requires continual updating to reflect current market challenges, regulatory environment, technological changes and economic realities.  

What the master plan is not is a mandate to expand the airport.

FAA Funding

Times and conditions change so rapidly that an outdated business plan can be a liability to an organization, as it is unable to provide clear and timely guidance to decision makers on key issues and business matters. The airport’s master plan was last updated in 2003 — the same year in which the Heber City Master Plan was last updated. The plan is no longer relevant, as it does not reflect current market challenges, regulatory environment, technological changes or economic realities.

Recognizing how antiquated the airport’s master plan is, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began withholding $150,000 in annual discretionary funding and will continue to do so until the plan is updated. This funding is vital to proper operation.

Reflecting Our Community’s Vision

The Heber Valley Airport has seen tremendous change since it began operations in 1947, and the aviation industry is poised to see rapid, industry-defining change in the near future.

For example, the FAA’s latest noise standard, known as Stage 5 — the strictest noise standard — is likely to result in the phasing out of older, noisier aircraft and require compliance by all new aircraft. Technological changes, such as encompassing new plans to use biofuels to achieve significant reductions in emissions, are also in development.

The Heber Valley Airport and surrounding communities will likely benefit from these regulatory and technological changes but completing the master plan update process is paramount to assessing and understanding the possible impacts of such changes. 

Unlike private business plans that are updated without public involvement or input, the airport master plan will include extensive outreach to solicit and document public input. The update is anticipated to kick-off in the summer of 2019 and take up to 24 months to complete.

During that time, the update process will entail numerous public workshops, open houses and surveys. The process will be overseen by a steering committee composed of local representatives tasked with ensuring the update process is objective and provides opportunities for broad public outreach and involvement.

I can confidently assert that nearly all of our community members feel that Heber is a beautiful place, worthy of protecting and preserving for current and future generations to enjoy. I can further attest the airport master plan update should not be viewed as a threat to what we all love about Heber, nor should it be seen as a mandate to expand the airport. Quite the contrary.

The master plan will ultimately reflect the community’s vision for the airport and serve as a meaningful tool to guide decision makers on airport business matters.

As both the city planner and your neighbor, please accept my personal invitation to participate in the update of our airport’s master plan that will commence this summer. I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming open house.