Pilots urged to oppose Death Valley airport closure

The proposal to shut Stovepipe Wells Airport and designate the land as a night-sky viewing area is included in a package of modifications for Stovepipe Wells Village, Emigrant Junction, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes trailhead, Mosaic Canyon Road and trailhead, and the Devils Cornfield pullout.

The National Park Service has invited public comments and requested responses to specific questions including, “What suggestions do you have regarding the proposal to remove the airstrip and create a night-sky viewing area?”

AOPA believes that landing facilities for general aviation flights in and near national parks have high value, and plans to submit formal comments on the proposal, said AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager Melissa McCaffrey, who urged members to weigh in as well.

She noted that Stovepipe Wells Airport is already closed to night operations and has no rotating beacon to interfere with stargazing. “So as far as night sky viewing is concerned, you would think they could make both work,” she said.

Other aviation organizations are also mobilizing their memberships to speak out on the National Park Service proposal and have pointed out that pilots support astronomical observing, as evidenced by several examples of places where aviation and organized stargazing events have coexisted successfully.

McCaffrey added that the Stovepipe Wells airstrip serves a safety function as a result of its location in an area where flat terrain is scarce. Its appearance on aeronautical charts helps pilots take the possibility of in-flight emergencies into account for their route planning, she said.

Stovepipe Wells Airport, located in the northern portion of Death Valley National Park, has a 3,260-foot-long, 65-foot-wide runway, and is about a quarter-mile from the Stovepipe Wells Hotel and a restaurant. The other Death Valley airport, located over 25 miles away in the park’s southern area, is Furnace Creek Airport, known as the airport with the lowest field elevation in the United States, at minus-210 feet msl.

The National Park Service will take public participation into account, so AOPA strongly encourages members to submit comments online or by mail by December 23 to Stovepipe Wells Developed Area Improvements Project Superintendent, Death Valley National Park, P.O. Box 579, Death Valley, CA 92328.

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