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For the love of flying, keep Albert Whitted

Two months ago I would not have cared one whit about the whole airport issue. When I saw people waving signs for Albert Whitted, I thought, "Yeah, okay, you've got a plane and we don't. How nice for you." I didn't know the first thing about the airport. I probably wouldn't have voted on the issue at all.

About six weeks ago, because I am a teacher, I was offered the opportunity to go up on a Civil Air Patrol flight as part of its educational outreach. I drove over to Vandenberg Airport for the one-hour flight. The pilot took me up over Plant City and the area around the airport, and let me handle the controls for part of the flight. I was immediately hooked. The exhilarating feeling of flight, in a responsive little plane, on a beautiful day _ this was not something you wanted to do just once. I did a little research and found that I could take flight lessons at Bay Air right here at Albert Whitted Airport. At present, I have met with my instructor three times and have two whole hours in my logbook _ and an ear-to-ear smile on my face.

As a side note, I have found every person I have dealt with at Albert Whitted to be extremely friendly, courteous and inviting. None of the elitism that some might associate with pilots and aircraft owners.

Two months ago I was uninformed and unenlightened. I didn't know the many purposes that the airport serves, and I didn't know that you didn't have to be a millionaire to love to fly. (As I mentioned, I'm a teacher _ definitely not a millionaire.)

So let me set the record straight: The airport benefits many more people than the 177 aircraft owners who keep their planes there. It benefits ordinary citizens like me, who simply want to learn to fly. I will probably never own my own plane, but I hope to gain the skills and experience necessary to receive my license, so that flying will always be a part of my life.

I hope we never lose the treasure that I have only recently discovered. I will be voting "1. Yes; 2. Yes; 3. No;" so that other residents of St. Petersburg who, like me, awaken to the thrill of flying will be able to pursue their training here in St. Petersburg.

Amy L. Justice, St. Petersburg

Past vs. future

The debate over the fate of Albert Whitted Airport essentially pits the past against the future. Albert Whitted was part of aviation history, has served the St. Petersburg community faithfully and productively for many decades, and represents a cornerstone of the downtown landscape. That is the past.

The future of St. Petersburg _ at least the downtown area but with repercussions for the entire city _ lies in the University of South Florida and the nearby medical complex. As cities throughout Florida and the nation battle for access to institutions of higher learning, St. Petersburg residents have had a university handed to them. All we have to do is give that gift a chance to grow, not (as Connie Kone suggests) by "expanding to the south or southwest," but by allowing the school to expand to the east. The former option forces the school to either conflict with the medical complex for space, or to expand south in a hodgepodge manner. The latter option allows for coherent campus growth, and also maximizes growth options for the medical complex.

This is the future that will serve all of the citizens of St. Petersburg in the most rewarding manner. In toto, the economic potential represented by the university and the medical complex swamps the most optimistic projections for the airport.

William Arnold, St. Petersburg

An aeronautical education opportunity

I am voting to keep Albert Whitted Airport for a reason I have not yet seen in the press. I believe that the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has an extraordinary opportunity to begin an aeronautical program similar to the program run by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Daytona Beach.

Embry-Riddle has the only aeronautical program in the state. When a university begins such a program, one of the greatest expenses is the construction of runways and support facilities. USF St. Petersburg is adjacent to runways and support facilities. They already exist.

I envision an aeronautical program at USF that will make this institution unique to this part of Florida. The accompanying lease agreement with the city for the runways and support facilities will make the airport an even greater asset to the city. The opportunity is there. Let's hope USF St. Petersburg recognizes something that is at its door.

Richard C. Koch, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Air Force, retired,

St. Petersburg

Too close for comfort

As a retired auditing student who spends a good deal of time on the campus of University of South Florida, I too have enjoyed watching the planes landing and taking off. There is a kind of thrill in watching the process. But when sitting in classes and hearing the planes coming in to land as they swoop almost into the classroom, I worry. No one has mentioned the accident potential, but it seems to have a high probability, especially if the airport is expanded at the same time the university is expanding. Whitted may have been there first, but now there are thousands of students. If a disaster occurs, we will all be wondering why we allowed the two to operate in such proximity.

Dorothy Gaylord, St. Petersburg

Skewing the facts

Re: Airport honesty, Oct. 25.

This editorial was an obvious case of taking the facts and skewing them to fit a preconceived opinion.

The reference that the Airport Owners and Pilots Association "quietly" informed airport backers of its intent to help them seems ludicrous. Maybe the writer thinks the AOPA should have taken out a full-page ad in the Times to announce it.

Additionally, the reference to the AOPA as the "people from outside the city" is as foolish as saying the AARP, the Shriners or the Red Cross are those people from outside the city simply because they are headquartered elsewhere.

Lastly, the inference that the AOPA is doing something wrong by not having registered as a political action committee can best be judged by the fact that, using the criteria set forth in this editorial, it appears that the Times itself should be registered as a PAC. This may sound like something Yogi Berra would say, but if you're going to be deceptive, don't be so obvious.

Vance Proper, St. Petersburg

Getting too personal

Re: Airport honesty, editorial, and The answer to Albert Whitted question won't be on the ballot in November, by Rick Baker, Oct. 26.

I guess I should feel honored that the St. Petersburg Times allowed Mayor Rick Baker and the editorial board to fire salvos at me on the same day. Albert Whitted Airport is the issue, not where I live. The St. Petersburg City Council recognizes that aviation businessmen like me are an important element in a discussion of the issues surrounding the future of this airport. As such, they want to hear differing opinions as to how government actions may be affecting the citizens. That is not something I can say about the St. Petersburg Times or Mayor Baker.

When council members take a position that is different from what the newspaper believes, you vilify and call them names. You have done the same to me twice this year. Such actions are not a worthy example of how a newspaper should act, but the public has come to expect that from the Times.

As the city's leader, Mayor Baker should be leading the explanation of the airport issues. Instead, he confuses the public with personal attacks on me. The "Proposed Master Plan" that he says I advocate has not been approved by City Council.

Mayor Baker's single-runway plan will not succeed because it embodies the same idea as the waterfront park plan. The idea is to develop 22 acres of airport land after citizens' approval to close the western half the airport. The FAA has told him that it will not finance his plan.

I am one member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents 400,000 members nationwide. An airport closure is a nationwide issue because it affects the national air transportation system. Albert Whitted Airport is a key element within that system, so it is appropriate that AOPA makes its voice heard.

If Mayor Baker gets his wish that Amendments 1 and 3 fail, he will be in a position to twist the results into "the public does not want an airport or a park, so let's develop it commercially." I think our airport serves this community well, but it needs improvement.

Jack W. Tunstill, Seminole

Focus on the big jobs

Re: The answer to Albert Whitted question won't be on the ballot in November, by Rick Baker, Oct. 26.

Thank you, Mayor Baker, for embracing the "vote none of the above" position I asked about at the Tiger Bay Club session on Albert Whitted Airport. Let's focus on the big jobs at hand for the city: downtown renaissance, Midtown reconstruction, Gateway business expansion and the maintenance of the current inventory of our homes, to name a few.

It is a nonissue that has spun out of control by special interests. We need time, thought, reasoned debate and real reasons for a change in course. Up until now I have heard none.

I believe that the Times is in need of the same evaluation of its "close Whitted" policy.

Sheldon Schwartz, St. Petersburg

Hardly an airport supporter

Re: The answer to Albert Whitted question won't be on the ballot in November, by Rick Baker.

Mayor Baker wrote in your newspaper, "I have consistently supported keeping Albert Whitted Airport open downtown, and I continue to support its retention." Yet, it was Baker who first invited developer Tim Clemmons to City Council to show off the architectural proposals for a developed area in place of the airport. He then touted Clemmons' efforts in finding creative alternate uses for the Albert Whitted property. It is this same Tim Clemmons who is a primary member of the PAC that has placed the "demolish the airport and make a park" item on the ballot. This ballot item would free up half of the airport property for development while costing $250,000 annually in park maintenance.

When City Council was in the process of deciding (unanimously) to keep Albert Whitted Airport, it was Baker, who having lost round one to the council, came up with a one-runway scheme so that he could develop most of the property with the most-used runway demolished. The FAA told him then that this was unacceptable. The vast majority of pilots who use the airport very emphatically said this would make it dangerous and therefore often unusuable. Yet, he persisted and commissioned a study to the tune of $80,000 in taxpayer funds to come up with the same basic answers we already knew. He continues to ride this one-trick pony. The question is "why?" The answer is, "He is not a supporter of the airport!"

Glenn Anderson, St. Petersburg

In case of an emergency

I have been extremely interested in the many opinions on the fate of Albert Whitted Airport. A friend of ours, a recently retired, high-ranking military officer, expressed an opinion that I would like to pass on.

He claims you cannot take anything for granted and mentioned the twin towers in New York, the freighter striking the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the hurricane that struck Homestead. The city of St. Petersburg and the west coast of Florida have been so fortunate in not having a severe hurricane strike. Should such a storm ever occur, imagine the destruction, the injured and the supplies and equipment required to carry on. Travel on our roads and bridges could be disrupted for considerable time, and our city could actually be isolated. If Albert Whitted is allowed to remain as is, the required medical supplies, etc., could be flown in and the injured could be taken to our two nearby hospitals.

Albert Whitted is similar to a fire extinguisher; it lies in wait in case it is needed. Before we write off our airport and live to regret it, let's vote to keep our "blessing."

Don Saxer, St. Petersburg

Signs made the difference

When this airport issue arose I was not sure what was the correct side to support and what was best for the people of St. Petersburg.

I took both sides' reasoning and still couldn't find who I should vote for. But just riding around the city the other day helped me make up my mind. The signs to support a park, say just that. No negative message. But the signs for support of the airport, speak of "Save our city," as if the city will die without the airport. And then to even say anything about condos, which would have to go back to the people for another vote in the future, is disgusting. If the supporters of the airport will use this underhanded way of trying to fool voters, then I see who really should get my vote!

LaDern Lane, St. Petersburg