According to a Federal Aviation Administration advisory circular, one of the first tasks local officials should do when beginning the airport master planning process is to create a process for public involvement. The program should be proportional to the airport size, complexity of the plan and the issues involved. The purpose is to encourage information sharing and collaboration among stakeholders. “An effective public involvement program should provide these stakeholders with an early opportunity to comment, before major decisions are made; provide adequate notice of opportunity for their involvement; and should provide for regular forums throughout the study,” the advisory reads.
Although the Chatham Airport Commission continually stresses that none of the recommendations in its draft master plan update for the town's municipal airport, the fact that many, if not most, of the chapters have already been submitted to the FAA for review means, in the eyes of many, that those are the recommendations the board is likely to champion. Much of that was done with little public fanfare, before people got wind of the most controversial recommendation—to change the poor-weather landing approach—and began showing up at commission meetings in droves.
While the commission has responded by creating more opportunity for input at its regular meetings and holding a couple of public forums, the lack of a cohesive public involvement program shows that engaging the larger community wasn't at the forefront of commissioners' minds. They have, in a sense, paid a price; there's been considerable adverse publicity about the plan and misinformation circulating that has been difficult for the commission to counter.
One of the suggestions in the FAA advisory is to gain public input and buy-in by establishing a citizens advisory committee. Last week, the airport commission rejected this idea and opted instead to move ahead full speed just as it's been doing. Such a group should have been named at the outset of the master planning process, and it's clear from the subsequent fallout that failure to do so has cost the commission credibility among many residents; last week's action just compounds the problem. A new advisory committee would have a lot of catching up to do but it would also provide more coherent, fact-based feedback rather than the scattershot, often emotional and misinformed input that the commission has received so far. Selectmen also backed an advisory committee. The airport commission should rethink it's position and name an advisory committee.