IYK hears safety, access concerns

Alion presentation attracts crowd at special airport board meeting

IYK hears safety, access concernsBy REBECCA NEIPP

News Review Staff Writer

Alion Science and Technology, a defense contractor looking to establish an international campus in the Indian Wells Valley — potentially bringing millions in investments and scores of jobs with it — made its first formal presentation to the Indian Wells Valley Airport Board of Directors last Thursday evening.

Alion has been exploring a base of operations for U.S. Foreign Military Service partners looking to access restricted airspace above China Lake.

“I’ve been on this board going on five years, and this is more people than I’ve seen in all that time put together,” said Board President Paul Valovich, commenting on the capacity crowd that filled the district’s administrative office.

“We are not going to debate this via the newspapers,” he added before introducing the speaker.

Dr. Christopher Amos, senior vice president of Alion, gave the board an overview of his company’s history, which started in 1936 and became an employee-owned company (with a current staff of 2,200) in 2002.

A team of Alion representatives approached China Lake last year, when they found that there was a great need to support FMS customers at China Lake.

As U.S. cooperation with foreign military has increased, so has the demand on local resources. “That puts a strain on the infrastructure that the Navy has to support those partnerships,” said Amos.

“The idea here is that taking some of that infrastructure requirement and moving it to an adjacent space, which is still easily accessible, will free up space for other operations.”

Alion consultants followed up by approaching Navy and DOD leaders, who reportedly expressed support for the concept.

Amos said that given the established aviation infrastructure at IYK, “It seemed to me that the airport here made a logical choice” to build a campus.

In addition to providing runway access for entree into restricted airspace, the campus would include office space, secure facilities, hangars and amenities such as a cafeteria and gymnasium.

Amos said Alion is interested in a phased approach to facilitate an organic growth of the venture, as well as a streamlined transition into sharing space with existing operations at IYK.

He said that Alion has identified as the primary benefits the economic opportunity to the IWV community, growth for China Lake and increased support to foreign partners.

The board received a barrage of comments from the public, mostly concerns relating to safety and access to existing facilities.

Scott Seymour, Inyokern Airport general manager, told the News Review in a phone interview that the purpose of last week’s meeting was not to get detailed answers to safety and security concerns, but to see if the board was interested in moving forward with the concept.

“If Alion comes up with a safety plan, we would like to have input to make sure that all of the local concerns can be appropriately mitigated,” said Seymour.

This sentiment was echoed by Amos during his presentation. “It doesn’t make sense for us to go off in a corner by ourselves and come up with a plan.”

“The board has the operation expertise on how to do this stuff,” said Valovich. “However it goes down, it’s not going to degrade operational flight safety. I don’t know all the issues or how it’s going to work out … there are a zillion details that have to be worked out from an operational perspective.”

As safety-related questions were listed, one member of the public asked if the airport could compile a running list so that people could submit risks and concerns that should be addressed.

“The reason I asked folks to show up here tonight is so we could hear this at the same time,” said Boardmember Axel Alvarez. “The questions you are asking are important. As a tenant, I have concerns.”

In addition to numerous tenants and private pilots voicing mostly concerns about the project, Donna Hocker spoke out about her excitement.

“I applaud you for coming to the Inyokern Airport, and I think this is a wonderful opportunity for our community,” she said. “Clearly, there are still a lot of details to be worked out, but this is something the airport is experienced in doing.”

Valovich said he does not believe the airport has that experience. He said he believes the next step would be to establish a committee that could work with Alion.

“The committee would represent both an economic and operations standpoint. The economic part is fine and dandy, and I understand all that. But when it comes to operations, I don’t care about the economics.”

“The rest of us won’t get completely chased out of here?” asked Char Spencer, an airport tenant.

Boardmembers stated they would make sure the public maintained access.

“The real question is, what is the direction you are taking this airport?” asked Spencer.

“That’s a question that can’t be answered in 10 seconds,” said Valovich.

Questions and concerns from the public should be e-mailed to nicole@inyokernairport.com. Seymour said that list will be made available to stakeholders once it has been compiled.

“I’m excited about the prospect of Alion coming to Inyokern. Having them here would just enhance what we already do here” said Seymour. “Safety is obviously our paramount concern, but it’s also critical for us to be diligent in finding new revenue opportunities that will allow us to maintain our runways and facilities at the level we now enjoy and what our local pilots are used to.”

Seymour added that Navy and DOD officials have not yet approached him on the matter. “But I’m hoping they do.”

Pictured: A packed house at last Thursday’s meeting of the airport’s board listens to Dr. Christopher Amos, who outlined Alion’s proposal for an international campus at IYK. -- Photos by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-02-17