Centennial: A Busy GA Airport Where Even A MidAir Collision Cannot Stir FAA to Mitigate Impacts

Cirrus N416DJ was inbound from the right downwind to Runway 17R, while Key Lime N280KL was straight-in to Runway 17L. The runways are very closely spaced (just 700-ft between centerlines). The Cirrus flew too far on its turn to final. It is not yet clear if ATC gave traffic to either the Cirrus or the Swearingen, despite the fact the Cirrus was aimed to turn final just 700-ft west of where the Swearingen was to be, and turning with the Swearingen out of view behind the wing.

May 12, 2021 was an embarrassing day for FAA, especially at Centennial Airport [KAPA]: two aircraft, being worked by the tower controllers, collided midair. Fortunately, nobody was killed. That was 19-months ago. A look at the NTSB website shows they are still investigating, and they have yet to post anything beyond the 5-page preliminary report (available at this NTSB link). For the record, this is not surprising; for aviation accidents, there is a distinct correlation between ‘sensitivity’ of the event and time-length of the investigation, and a midair at a tower-controlled airport is a VERY sensitive event.

There is something else that has generated LOTS of sensitivity at KAPA: the noise of repetitive flights, flying round-and-round the closed pattern – especially the same right downwind to Runway 17R, as implicated in the midair collision. The root cause is that a few flight schools are importing students from across the globe, bringing them to training bases like Centennial, and running them through intensive flight instruction programs. This is a problem at a handful of other busy GA (general aviation) airports across the U.S., where even 70%+ of flight can be ‘local’ (round-and-round the pattern’) operations. Flight school owners are making good profits in this business model, but the impacts they are imposing below are substantial, and resoundingly unmitigated by airport authorities and regulators who do nothing but serve and enable aviation money.

This Post offers a compilation of items related to the situation at KAPA. It starts with some insight into the actual midair, then presents a recent article, plus recent letters seeking solutions.

Click on the following links to view each subsequent page of this Post:

  • p.2: 5/12/21 Midair
  • p.3: 12/12/22 article, ‘Residents demand changes at Centennial Airport’
  • p.4: 10/19/22 letter, from Airport Executive Director Fronapfel to FAA Tower Manager Lawton
  • p.5: 12/14/22 letter to FAA’s Acting Administrator Billy Nolen, signed by U.S. Representative Jason Crow and both U.S. Senators (Michael Bennet & John Hickenlooper)

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