Thursday, May 5, 2016

Crash turns spotlight on hidden Air Park-Dallas Airport (F69), Dallas Texas: Small field center of longtime controversy

Mooney M20F Executive 21, N3386X: Incident occurred May 01, 2016 near Air Park-Dallas Airport (F69), Dallas, Texas. 

A small airplane veered off an airport runway near Willow Bend Mall and crashed into a residential fence Sunday morning. 

The Mooney M20F Executive 21 had been traveling from Lubbock to Collin County, according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials.

Reports indicate that the pilot attempted to abort a landing attempt after coming in too quickly.  He apparently lost control of the aircraft and careened off the small runway toward a nearby home.

No one was injured in the incident.

For many residents, reports of an active airport just west of the Dallas North Tollway were just as newsworthy as the crash.

“I thought that place had closed down years ago,” said Plano resident Rita Langley.  She was filling gas across the street from the small airfield Monday morning. 

Langley drives the stretch of Park Boulevard between Midway Road and the Tollway every morning on her way to work. Signs warn drivers of low-flying planes. But Langley thought they were only relics from another time.

“It seems so strange that there are airplanes in the middle of all this,” Langley said, pointing to nearby businesses.

Air Park Dallas was built in 1965 as a fly-in community by former Addison Mayor Milton Noell and his son, David. The development included 65 residential lots overlooking a small privately owned public-use airport.  About half of the lots remain vacant.

“Back then, you had to drive 30 minutes to the nearest grocery store,” said Mark Shackelford, an adjunct member of the community and former flight school instructor at the airport.

In the 1980s, real estate developer Henry Billingsley acquired a controlling interested in the airport.

Events over the next 30 years have been contentious to say the least. The little-used airport sits on prime real estate, surrounded by the mall, many retailers and an international business park.

Residents have accused Billingsley of intentionally neglecting the airport in an attempt to shut it down.  In the early 2000s, he unveiled plans to build a development called Willow Park Village.

Area homeowners fought such attempts for years, noting that their lots were purchased with a guarantee of access to the airport runway. Any changes to that agreement required approval of a zoning commission made up of homeowners. Billingsley managed to purchase nearly all of the vacant lots, effectively cutting off further development. He eventually gained enough control of the zoning committee to control the majority of votes.

The airport and adjacent neighborhood are surrounded by Plano on three sides but technically not part of the city.  In 2008, the city of Carrollton annexed the airport runway. Residents accused Billingsley of making donations to Carrollton officials in return for help closing the airport.

While Billingsley denied those accusations, the Carrollton City Council passed an ordinance shortly after annexation placing stringent requirements on the airport. Failure to adhere to the stipulations would result in the airport’s demolition.

“All of a sudden, officials were out there questioning me about my operation,” Shackelford said.  He was later forced to abandon his flight instruction school.  A plane fuel station was also muscled out

Residents sued and eventually won a $2 million judgment against Billingsley in 2009.  The Texas Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2014.

The neighborhood remains unincorporated, outside the direct jurisdiction of any municipality.  Carrollton and Plano officials seem wary of wading into the contentious area.

The airport remains open, though it no longer has any commercial activity or on-duty personnel.

Shackelford could probably reopen his school if he wished.  However, he’s not eager to get caught up in another battle.

“I don’t quite have the pocketbook to take on a legal fight like that,” he said.

Original article can be found here:

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