Murfreesboro Municipal Airport accepted a top Federal Aviation Administration safety award from the Tennessee Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division during a special ceremony Thursday, Dec. 14, at the airport.
Representatives from Middle Tennessee State University’s Aerospace Department, which has a flight operations center at the airport, joined Murfreesboro City Council members, city administrators and airport staff at the event.
The FAA formally recognized the airportOct. 17 during the FAA Southern Region meeting in Atlanta where John Saalwaechter, Tennessee Department of Transportation director of aeronautics, received 2022 Southern Region General Aviation Airport Safety Award on behalf of the airport.
“This award is a great example of how the airport team and the City Council put safety first,” said Mayor Shane McFarland in a city of Murfreesboro news release. “Although there are various challenges, our team continues to be dedicated to providing the safest environment for our aviation customers and our residents in the city.”
“We are proud of this recognition from the FAA Southern Region,” said Murfreesboro Municipal Airport Director Chad Gehrke. “Many people should be commended for the arduous work in addressing safety and capacity concerns at the airport over the past few years. That includes the Airport Commission, city staff, elected officials, Middle Tennessee State University Aerospace staff and students, and expertise from consultants.”
The FAA Southern Region Airport Safety Awards program recognizes general aviation airports that have taken actions, instituted programs, or otherwise operated in such a manner deserving of special recognition for improving airport safety.
MTSU and Murfreesboro Aviation cooperated with the study and adoption of the Standard Operating Procedures. MTSU Aerospace created an aviation safety director position and hired additional faculty and staff in the interest of flight training safety.
“Adopting the SOPs is the key factor in improving airport safety while reducing complaints from neighbors and pilots, but it took the initiative of the city leaders and airport commissioners to recognize the concerns and address the issues,” said Gehrke. “Recognition from the FAA confirms that we are moving in the right direction enhancing safety for aviators and non-aviators.”
According to the city release, Murfreesboro Municipal Airport accomplished the following which significantly enhanced airport safety:
- Installed operations data collecting equipment (Virtower) (First in the state of Tennessee).
- Conducted an airport safety and capacity study.
- Consulted with Nashville Flight Standards District Office, Nashville Air Traffic Control and Memphis Airport District Office.
- Conducted multiple stakeholder and operator meetings to discuss alternatives.
- Collaboratively created a set of Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs.
The award comes as MTSU prepares to relocate its growing flight training operations to a training hub to be built at Shelbyville Airport in Bedford County over the coming years.
“This award is a great feather in the cap of Murfreesboro’s airport director, Chad Gehrke. It is also a great example of how MTSU and the city can work together to solve shared problems,” said Greg Van Patten, dean of MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences, which houses the Aerospace Department. “MTSU dominates the use of the airport. We have far more operations than all other users combined, so reducing operations and congestion on the ground and in the surrounding airspace required close cooperation between us and the airport.
“Our Aerospace leadership and flight training managers deserve great credit for their work on this. We made significant voluntary changes to our standard operating procedures, and many in the community have noticed,” Van Patten continued. “I regularly hear from people in conversation that they are under the mistaken impression that MTSU has already relocated to Shelbyville. The reality is that we are still 100% based in Murfreesboro and we are flying more than ever.
“Now that the Murfreesboro airport is part of the federal air traffic control contract tower program, they will be working hard to find new airport users to replace the traffic that MTSU will take to Shelbyville over the next few years.”
Murfreesboro joins recent Safety Award winners, including Naples Airport Authority, Naples Florida (2021), Lakeland Linder International Airport, Lakeland, Florida (2020), Rocky Mount, Wilson Regional Airport, Elm City, North Carolina (2019) and Flagler Executive Airport, Palm Coast, Florida (2018).
— Mike Browning, City of Murfreesboro