Mesa residents concerned about risks associated with Falcon Field

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

MESA - Business is booming at one East Valley airport, but the increase in flights has neighbors fearing for their safety.

Sabena Training Academy moved to Mesa in 2007 to accommodate more business, but now many people who live nearby want the company to find a new home.

It's a scene that still stands out in the minds of those who experienced it up close.

Jennifer Stinson remembers in April 2008 when a small plane crashed in an orange grove behind her Mesa neighborhood. It had just taken off from Falcon Field when its single engine malfunctioned.

Three people onboard died and this mother fears the chance of a crash happening in their neighborhood again is high.

"The other day, my son came running in and thought that a plane had actually crashed because he saw one coming in so low," Stinson said.

It's that fear which led neighbors to form the committee "Keep Falcon Field Safe." Terri Eisenhauer is a member.

“We feel it's a tremendous risk that sooner or later, one is bound to come down on top of somebody,” Eisenhauer said.

Not only do some 900 Falcon Field flights circle day in and day out, directly above her neighborhood, but about 70% of those are flown by students from other countries.

"So not only are they learning aviation language, and learning to fly, they're learning to think and speak and communicate in a language that isn't their native language," said Eisenhauer.

The City of Mesa also formed an Ad-Hoc Task Force in April aimed at developing compromises between neighbors, the airport and the city. An increased safety risk is at the top of a 30-page petition that task force submitted to Mesa's city manager earlier this month.

In addition to a potential decrease in property value, neighbors say they live with a constant reminder that what goes up must come down.

“It’s reasonable to have aircraft coming in and out, what's unreasonable is to have it every five minutes, all day, every day, that's unreasonable and that's what the flight schools have brought,” Stinson said.

A community forum is scheduled for Wednesday night to discuss the task force's recommendations on how aircraft operations should be handled going forward.

Mesa has scheduled a public hearing to discuss these recommendations on September 30, 2009 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Red Mountain Campus of Mesa Community College, on the 2nd Floor of the Mesquite Building. All community members are urged to attend and participate in the hearing.

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