A crowd estimated at 80-100 watched last Thursday as Shelbyville Airport Authority discussed Middle Tennessee State University’s proposed lease of portions of Shelbyville Municipal Airport.
Several of those visitors voiced their opinions, pro and con, on MTSU’s current student flight training operations and future plans. The university wants to fund expansion of the current facilities, with the possibility of moving its entire aviation program to Shelbyville at some point.
Board members reminded visitors that they only serve as an advisory committee to Shelbyville City Council, which will make the final decision. Bobby Turnbow serves as the city council’s representative on the committee.
Jeanette Neese, who said she lives “two fields over” from the airport, complained that planes begin “buzzing” the area around 6-6:30 a.m. and continue until 11 p.m. She said she’d only heard officials talk about the project’s economic benefits with little said “about what the rest of the county thinks.”
“I spend my money here in Shelbyville and I would like to see more consideration about what the people of the county and the city think about all these airplanes. I don’t want it,” Neese said.
Neese said she was unable to talk over the telephone on her back porch because of “airplane noise.”
“These airplanes buzz my treetops,” Neese said. “MTSU is using us…go back to your own county.”
Martin Davis, of Benford Road, said he’s lived in the flight pattern his entire life “going on 72 years.
“It’s not of any major consequence to me, my family, or my livestock. The MTSU planes are much quieter than the local planes.”
Davis said MTSU’s pilots fly higher than local planes, leading one critic to mutter, “I can see the pilots.”
“To me, this is a great opportunity for Bedford County, for MTSU, for Middle Tennessee, and for Tennessee to have the premier aeronautics school in the country right here in our backyard…I think some of your concerns are ridiculous.”
Mike Gregory, who said he owns properties on Midland Road and Church Cross Road, said regulations should be enforced limiting pilot training time, and 11 p.m. is too late.
“Some residents need to sleep,” Gregory said, suggesting a 9:30 p.m. end time.
Gregory isn’t opposed in general to the proposals.
“I think this is a good project,” Gregory said.
“I’m tired of it,” Leah Tierney of Binford Road, said, speaking of noise.
“What they’re doing right now is just the tip of the iceberg…This is just being swooped in here under our blind eye. I’ve had it up to here.”
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said Jon Clarke, a Midland Road resident who lives “right under the flight path.”
“There’s not that many planes coming in and out. They don’t buzz the trees. They don’t bother me. What we need to be concerned with is how much it’s going to increase.”
Clarke noted the presence of MTSU staff members at the meeting and asked if they could provide numbers.
Greg Van Patten, dean of MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences of which the aviation department is a part, attempted to answer Clarke’s and others’ questions. Van Patten has acted as the main spokesperson for the university since the project was proposed.
The growth of MTSU’s flight program has leveled off and training flights “have been distributed around the region” Van Patten said.
Pilots and instructors have to pay fuel costs and focus training on tight areas they’re familiar with in order to limit costs, according to Van Patten. They are assigned particular areas and Van Patten said the same process would be followed in Shelbyville.
The increase in flight numbers would be “less than double where you’re at right now,” Van Patten said, apologizing for not being able to give a more exact number.
An audience member said she’d hired a firm to investigate the number of landings at Murfreesboro’s airport and 77 percent were connected with MTSU. Many of those were “touch-and-go” landings by MTSU student pilots, she said.
Van Patten said the university follows a “good neighbor” program in Murfreesboro to prevent “crowding out” non-MTSU air traffic.
MTSU states in the agreement they hope to use portions of the property for aeronautical and non-aeronautical use, such as proposed classroom buildings.
The proposed lease is for 40 years with two 5-year extensions. The university will have the right to purchase non-aeronautical land based on a soon-to-be-updated airport layout plan. MTSU has mentioned the possibility of constructing classroom and administrative buildings alongside U.S. 231 North on land currently occupied by a farm supply store and the Carrick family’s residence.
MTSU would be completely responsible for those structures, which would revert to city ownership if the lease were terminated. The city will be under no obligation to furnish additional utilities, which if added would be paid for by the university.
Board members expressed concern about a portion of the agreement stating in the event of a disaster that destroyed or damaged all or part of MTSU’s facilities, it could terminate the lease on a 30-day notice as stated in the agreement’s text, or 90 days, as stated verbally in the meeting.
The agreement would also give MTSU the right of first purchase to land adjacent to the airport. University officials mentioned possible construction of hangars for an expanded fleet of airplanes.
Another proposal indicates that approximately 7 acres (304,920 square feet) of currently-undeveloped land will be leased to Azure Airport Development SYI, LLC, of Smyrna, and subleased to MTSU. Azure hopes to expand the ramp, improve the existing ramp, install aircraft tie-downs, and build temporary buildings.
The structures would be used for flight training, additional hangars, and aircraft maintenance and repair. Azure and/or MTSU would be allowed to use a third party to sell aircraft fuel and lubricants to users of the new facilities. The proposal did not specify how the airport’s existing fuel supplier would be affected.
Lease terms for hangars in the past have been 20 years with two 5-year extensions, , board member Erick Larson said.
Kelly Wilson, in his first meeting as a board member, suggested the leases include the ability to make market adjustments on leases after a certain amount of time.
Several members of the committee said they felt more negotiations and planning, including the involvement of Shelbyville Power, were needed before signing of any agreements.
“The council deserves to hear the board’s expertise on aeronautical leases,” Larson said. “They’re different from regular leases.”
They noted nothing in the current proposals mentions compliance with local airport rules and regulations.
One board member asked if it could be stipulated that local contractors be used to construct the campus facilities. City Attorney Ginger Bobo Shofner said such an agreement would be illegal.