July 16, 2004
Concerns over the future of one of Northern California's most vibrant general aviation airports, the controversial use of land surrounding others, and a little airport "bumming" - all part of AOPA President Phil Boyer's series of AOPA Pilot Town Meetings in the Golden State this week. California has the largest pilot population in the United States and is home to more than 50,000 AOPA members. And what happens in California is frequently a harbinger of what will happen in the rest of the country.
Boyer spoke with many of those members in Oxnard, Ontario, Concord, and Santa Rosa during the West Coast swing. At all four Pilot Town Meetings, members watched a short video message [ high resolution | low resolution; broadband connection recommended] from Senator Diane Feinstein (D), who expressed her support of general aviation in the state. She named several airports she considered important but acknowledged those airports are being pressured by restrictions or closing threats.
Boyer also read comments from Alaskan Congressman Dan Young (R), who has taken the FAA and Transportation Security Administration to task for a number of anti-general aviation policies.
AOPA members attending the meetings received a report from AOPA Regional Representative John Pfeifer, who has been working at the state capital in Sacramento to preserve state budget money collected from aviation fuel taxes for aviation. Some of those taxes are being "robbed" from the GA airports fund to shore up the state's debt-ridden general fund.
In Northern California's city of Concord, members expressed outrage over the proposed closing of Buchanan Field (CCR), home to more than 500 based aircraft. Contra Costa County District IV Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier has consistently used the airport as a political pawn and, in his latest move, has gained support from the board of supervisors. His plan is to sell off the airport land for redevelopment and relocate CCR to some other undetermined location.
At a Thursday morning meeting of the Concord Aviation Coalition Boyer told more than two dozen attendees that he understood their aim was to have AOPA "spend every last penny of its resources to keep CCR open and then lay in front of the bulldozers if they try to close it."
Boyer said he wasn't ready to go quite that far with AOPA member resources, but he has been known by members of Congress to be thought of as someone who would lay on a runway to keep it from closing. As inspiration, the Mount Diablo Pilots Association, where the meeting was held, has a picture hanging on their clubhouse wall of a pristine-looking Meigs Field before demolition.
AOPA's president cited several letters from prominent members of Congress written in support of the FAA grants protecting Buchanan from the fate of Meigs. The letters all cite the fact CCR has accepted federal grants and, therefore, under FAA regulations cannot be closed outright.
AOPA has argued that there is no viable site to build a new airport to replace CCR, and even if feasible, it would cost billions of dollars and take well over 12 years to even begin construction.
Following the meeting, Boyer spent an hour with an aviation-savvy reporter from the Contra Costa Times presenting the view of the world's largest aviation organization on Supervisor DeSaulnier's ridiculous proposal.
During the town meeting in Oxnard in Southern California, AOPA members voiced concern over another proposal long on AOPA's radar screen: Building a school under the traffic pattern at OXR. Boyer noted that Oxnard has had a long history of building public places in flight paths, citing a 15-year-old battle to relocate a McDonald's restaurant directly in the runway arrival and departure path. Boyer cited AOPA's research that shows the school proposal has not met state and federal guidelines.
Also while in Oxnard, an airport with six commuter flights a day, the AOPA Airport Watch program was noted. The sign was displayed at a departure gate, one of some 5,000 warning signs displayed at GA airports nationwide. Boyer also did radio and newspaper interviews, hoping to better inform the general public about improper land use around their local airport, specifically mentioning the school.
Upon arrival at OXR, AOPA's president participated with producer Brian Terwilliger, who is producing a "unique" full-length feature film about Van Nuys Airport, often cited as the world's busiest GA airport. The history of the airport is being produced in high definition and captures many aviation legends that have been touched by this airport. Boyer also held a working dinner prior to each meeting with volunteers from the AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN), now more than 1,700 members strong. ASN is the first-alert, volunteer organization that acts as AOPA's eyes and ears at hundreds of public-use airports nationwide.
While the closing of airports was a major topic, the downsizing of an aviation school in San Jose raised concerns in Santa Rosa. Aviation students traveled a significant distance from San Jose University - which has taught aviation for nearly 70 years - to inform the AOPA president that their aeronautics lab program at Mineta San Jose International Airport was being substantially reduced. Students indicated classes have already been dropped and that they can't get the training needed to enter the next generation of pilots. The school says it is relocating the program to the main campus, and it will become more "of an academic and research program." AOPA intends to provide support to the students to help save the program.
But it wasn't all business. Earlier in the week, Boyer visited the largest manufacturer of civilian helicopters, the Robinson Helicopter Company. Founder Frank Robinson, who is a legend in the helicopter industry, gave Boyer a personal tour of his sprawling 260,000-square-foot plant (slated to double in size next week) at Zamperini Field in Torrance, which employs nearly 1,100 workers. Robinson is the perfect example of an airport supporting a major business and, therefore, much needed jobs.
And Boyer made an unscheduled stop at Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville to wish pilot and AOPA member Duncan Miller a happy 83rd birthday. Miller, a retired contractor and World War II pilot, has several hangars filled with classic airplanes. A friend even gave Boyer a ride in a 1943 BT-13B Valiant. Afterwards, Boyer made a phone call to AOPA's headquarters to speed along the renewal of Miller's special-issuance third class medical certificate.
AOPA staff members made one phone call to Oklahoma City, and Miller had his medical the next day! With all the ailments that can ground a pilot, Boyer said, "Boy, I hope I still have a medical when I'm 83."
"So many members fail to take advantage of our three-person medical certification department, which can be reached through our toll free Pilot Information Center. While AOPA cannot change a disqualifying medical condition, our staff can help navigate pilots through the complex medical documentation process and also through the paperwork backlog at the FAA's understaffed Medical Certification division."
Members can also take advantage of AOPA's online TurboMedical® interactive form to flag medical issues before they get hung up in the FAA's Medical Certification division.
The next series of Pilot Town Meetings will be in September in Arizona.
July 16, 2004
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