MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — Middle Tennessee State University's flight training program may be a victim of its own success. It has grown so much that it may have outgrown its airport, and the constant training flights are causing friction with neighboring homeowners and commercial pilots.
MTSU’s program has grown from 319 professional pilot majors in fall 2013 to 886 in fall 2020, with 126 students in flight training in spring 2013 compared to 358 today, the Daily News Journal reported.
The school has 33 aircraft based at the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport and operates about 70% to 80% of the 400 daily flight take-offs and landings there. Recently, the airport saw more than 600 operations on three days as the school made up for a missed week of training due to snow.
“We can’t support that growth,” said Mayor Shane McFarland, who noted he’d like to see the university expand the MTSU brand by using other airports across the Midstate. “To be continuously circling over people’s houses at 6 a.m. is just not acceptable.”
Murfreesboro City Council agreed Thursday to split the $29,812 cost to study Murfreesboro Municipal Airport operations and flight patterns with MTSU. The study should show how much traffic the runway and airspace can handle at peak times and should be done by Aug. 1 prior to the start of MTSU’s fall semester.
In part, the study was prompted by noise complaints from neighbors.
“I literally wake up hearing them and go to sleep hearing them,” Dawn Adams told the newspaper.
Corporate pilots have also told the airport manager they do not want to fly in while heavy flight training is taking place.
“We’ve got to make sure we keep this airport available to all the different types of users to properly serve this community,” Gehrke said.
Just a year ago, the MTSU Board of Trustees and the airport commission endorsed a plan to provide additional space at the airport for the university’s aerospace department. MTSU’s growth was justification for a $1 million state grant for runway improvements.
On Thursday, MTSU President Sidney McPhee said the university is working to develop relationships with other airports in the region. Possibilities include airports in Smyrna, Lebanon, McMinnville, Shelbyville, Tullahoma and Smithville, several of which are isolated from neighboring homes and businesses, Gehrke said.
McPhee confirmed the university is working with the city on balancing the feelings of neighbors and the needs of its students.
Adams said she hope relief will come soon after recently counting 25 aircraft flying overhead while she sat on her porch to eat lunch.
“It’s just so frustrating as a homeowner,” Adams said.