ARLINGTON – Brazen vandals over a two-week period struck Arlington Municipal Airport, leaving thousands of dollars of property damage in their path.
The perpetrators damaged a rare $500,000 plane, sprayed jet fuel trucks with fire extinguishers, stole a golf cart and broke into the airport director’s vehicle and made off with items. Moreover, in an act that put pilots’ lives at risk, the vandals damaged identification lights on a runway that have since been repaired.
“The vandalism has happened two weeks in a row, and it’s going to happen again,” said a concerned Kevin Duncan, president and general manager at Arlington Flight Services, where much of the damage occurred.
The first incident happened Nov. 17 when airport director Dave Ryan’s truck was broken into at the airport office and personal items stolen while he attended a conference out of town in a city vehicle.
According to police reports related to the more-recent incidents, the thieves grabbed paving stones from a building next to AFS’ above-ground tanks containing Jet A fuel for commercial users. They then walked 200 feet with the bricks to a rebuilt 1957 Seabee “flying boat,” broke out a cockpit window and damaged the plane exterior.
The culprits also pulled heavy hoses from two of AFS’s refueling trucks, removed fire extinguishers, then broke into the cabs and sprayed foam inside as well as outside the vehicles. Another fueling station to the north was also missing fire extinguishers.
A golf cart was stolen from AirCore Aviation, a service and repair company that specializes in light sport, ultra-light and experimental aircraft. The thieves drove the cart until they crashed it into a fence and fled.
Duncan said the vandals were captured on security videocameras mounted on the AFS building, but the video quality was grainy and the conditions too dark to provide enough detail, other than they appeared to be two young men.
Duncan spoke to the mayor and city council on Nov. 28, seeking better security measures at the airport. He recommended looking at FAA, Homeland Security or state grants to help purchase infrared or high-resolution videocameras that can be strategically placed around the airport.
“We have a tremendous amount of vulnerability at the airport,” he said. “From a security measures standpoint, the cheapest way to go is infrared and high-resolution videocameras. It would be money well-spent.”
It looks like airport officials have got the jump on camera systems.
Ryan said that after the truck break-in, airport staff began looking at options for video surveillance, and whether a fiberoptic or wireless system would work best. He said more research needs to be done, including where to place cameras in parking lots and dark spots around the airport where assets and equipment are more vulnerable.
More lighting is not the answer, Duncan said. FAA has strict regulations on placement of lighting and how light disperses that is not expressly related to guiding pilots onto landing strips, runways and taxiways. He cited an example when he had to buy security lights for his refueling tanks; the lights needed to be a specific height, with narrow beams directed at the tanks but otherwise not visible from the taxiway to the west.
The Arlington Police Department provides security to the airport. The airport is in the police’s central patrol district and, at 1,189 acres, accounts for the largest portion.
Police Chief Jonathan Ventura said they do not patrol the airport around-the-clock, but they do have two Airport Resource Officers who serve as liaisons between the airport and police. Those two officers are also the department’s K9 handlers.
“We prefer to keep our K9 handlers centrally located for quicker response to the north and south patrol areas if a K9 is needed,” Ventura said.
He added that the airport is a great location for the K9 handlers to conduct training. In the early evening hours, airport traffic slows to a crawl, providing fewer interruptions for narcotics training, while the large open and wooded areas are conducive to tracking training.
The officers frequently walk the trails around the airport and have limited access to an ATV, Ventura said. Police are looking to get two dedicated ATVs to help patrol the airport, as well as at Haller Park and some areas near the Centennial Trail.
“Statistically speaking, the airport is one of the lowest crime areas in the city,” said Ventura, though it does have some reported homeless and drug activity. “When incidents do occur there they tend to be high in value by the nature of the inherent costs associated with private aviation.”
Ryan, who has been airport director for about two years, said that may have been the case in the past, but the past month’s activity raises concerns.