Backers of grounded Homestead aircraft show seek new flight plan
By Scott Blake
Miami economic development officials are scratching for alternatives to keep alive their idea of bringing a world-class aircraft show to the region.
Their hopes were doused last week when the US Air Force again turned down their request to use the military's Homestead Air Reserve Base for the proposed Miami International Air Show.
Now the Beacon Council, which spearheaded the proposal, is considering another look at other airfields, such as Opa-locka Airport in Opa-locka and Tamiami Airport in Kendall, as possible locations for the show, Frank Nero, the council's CEO and president, said Tuesday.
However, he said, those airfields have been considered before and were deemed to present logistical problems in hosting such a large show. Those limitations included being near densely populated areas; lacking enough runway, apron and overall space; and having surfaces that might not be strong enough to handle large and powerful jet aircraft.
As a result, Mr. Nero is floating the idea of the county petitioning the Air Force to make Homestead Air Reserve Base a "dual use airport," serving both the military and the county, as a possible way to save the show.
"I wonder if the [county] Aviation Department might be willing to do that," he added.
Marc Henderson, a Miami-Dade Aviation Department spokesman, said he had not heard about the petition idea before.
"That's something the department would have to explore, maybe with more input from the Beacon Council," Mr. Henderson said.
Another option may be appealing to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
US Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz , a Weston Democrat, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, aMiami Republican, were planning to speak to Secretary Panetta about the issue, Mr. Nero said.
The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County's public-private economic development group, has sought the Homestead air show as a rallying point to attract more aerospace and aviation business to Greater Miami, as well as to bring more tourists into the region.
In South Florida and around the state, no other non-commercially active airfields come close to the Homestead facility for its suitability to host a large air show, Mr. Nero said.
Local officials envisioned an event that would draw 150,000 to 200,000 spectators as well as up to 30,000 industry representatives, military personnel and government officials. They proposed having the show once every two years, and attaching the event to the beginning or end of the Air Force's own air show in Homestead.
Originally, the Air Force turned down the proposal, citing concerns about potential costs to the Air Force, insurance liability issues and setting a precedent for allowing civilian groups to use federal property.
Local officials appealed the decision and enlisted the support of Florida's congressional delegation, but it was not enough.
In a Dec. 15 letter to Mr. Nero, Deputy Assistant Air Force Secretary Kathleen Ferguson commended the effort.
"The passion of the various participants and supporters for the [air show] was very evident," Ms. Ferguson wrote. "Your initiative to improve the Miami area, particularly when it comes to industry and jobs, is most impressive."
However, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley decided against the proposal.
"In the end," Ms. Ferguson added, Secretary Donley's "decision was guided by the Air Force's primary mission requirements, the very significant challenges and uncertainties we face regarding both personnel and resources, and our ethical and legal obligations and considerations."
She added: "The Air Force previously declined to take on multi-year commitments like that envisioned by the [air show] organizers."
Regarding the alternative airfields, Mr. Nero said the Opa-locka site is the closest to what is needed, but the runway there isn't long enough. He also questioned the thickness of the Tarmac and its ability to support huge aircraft.
He said the Homestead site needed $15 million in improvements, but other locations probably will need more. He cited Opa-locka's dense population as a safety issue.
"Tamiami might be an option," Mr. Nero added. However, he said, it would need more infrastructure work than Opa-locka.
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