AOPA working to save Rialto Airport

March 16, 2005

AOPA working to save Rialto Airport

AOPA has requested additional assistance from the FAA to help preserve Rialto Municipal Airport in Southern California. The city of Rialto is conducting a strategy study to determine what it will do with the airport. The city favors closing, downsizing, or relocating the airport - relocating means moving the airport businesses and tenants to another airport, and then closing Rialto to develop the land for nonaviation uses.

AOPA contends that the city is working to create a self-fulfilling prophecy for the airport's failure, and the association is asking the FAA to weigh in to stop that effort. The agency's Western Pacific Region Airports Division has tried with little success.

"Rest assured that AOPA is going to continue to defend the continued viability of this key reliever airport," wrote Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports, in a letter to FAA Associate Administrator for Airports Woody Woodward. "We will battle this proposed airport closure all the way."

Rialto is a vital general aviation airport that is included in the FAA's National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS). The city has accepted more than $15 million in federal aid since 1984 - more than half of that was for airport land acquisition. It also is home base to the San Bernardino County sheriff's Aero Squadron and a major air ambulance company.

The city claims that it cannot afford to operate the airport, yet it has repeatedly rejected proposals for aviation businesses. AOPA believes the proposed closure and redevelopment of airport property for other purposes is driven by local real estate developers. The 435 acres of airport land is situated next to the I-210 bypass project, which would significantly increase the value of the land.

In January, AOPA filed a freedom of information request under the California Public Records Act to force the city to reveal what it is doing with airport funds and to produce communications with consultants and developers. At the time of the filing, the city attorney told AOPA the documents would be provided in about two weeks. It has been six weeks with nothing from the city.

"AOPA's next course of action may very well be to file an action in state court to compel the city to respond to our request," Dunn said.

This isn't the first time the city has shown disregard for federal and state laws. In 2002 the FAA's Western Pacific Region notified the city twice that it was not in compliance with federal grant obligations. Violations included using airport property for nonaviation purposes, a lack of maintenance, contract compliance deficiencies, and improper use of airport revenues.

In 2004, the FAA notified the city of more deficiencies, including its use of airport property for drag racing and the placement of concrete barriers on airport property. To AOPA's knowledge, the city did not respond to any of the FAA's letters.

On several occasions during meetings with pilots and visits to the airport, Dunn witnessed the city's blatant disregard firsthand. Aircraft hangars are being used for motor vehicle repair; part of the terminal building (a prime location for aviation businesses) houses a flower shop; and one of the taxiways is being used for drag racing.

Dunn also spoke with local pilots who said that more than 75 percent of the hangars are used for nonaviation purposes. Pilots also are being pressured not to oppose closing the airport, and airport businesses are being given financial incentives and lease promises to entice them to relocate to San Bernardino International Airport, located about nine miles east of Rialto.

March 16, 2005