AOPA Action in California

What AOPA is doing for California members

November 1, 2005

Truckee-Tahoe Airport seen as battleground

Are the three board members of the Truckee-Tahoe Airport District planning on violating rules that came with past FAA airport grants?

It looks that way to supporters, and AOPA officials have identified Truckee-Tahoe Airport as the potential site of the country's next big airport battle.

After winning a majority of the five airport board seats last year, noise opponents have now delayed accepting an additional $450,000 in federal grant money that might restrict their ability to impose noise or growth limits on the airport. The delay is apparently to allow time to hear from Denver attorney Peter J. Kirsch on options for imposing noise restrictions despite requirements that came with the acceptance in the past of millions of dollars of federal grant money.

However, the board members have already begun to impose restrictions designed, in sly ways, to reduce evening airport noise. Their first effort was nearly fatal yet it continues. This incident was related by airport board President Michael Golden, but airport Manager Dave Gotshall said he has been unable to confirm it. To help neighbors near the airport sleep better, the board prohibited staff from selling jet fuel after 7 p.m. So, an organ transplant jet from the East Coast landed there recently, desperate to get fuel to continue the journey to Napa, and its pilots were met by a staff that refused to sell the fuel because of new board restrictions. The restriction was not available in a notice to airmen. The jet was forced to go to Sacramento on very low fuel, then on to Napa, where doctors were already behind schedule and waiting on the organ.

There is no word on whether the airport board members who imposed the restriction ever learned of the danger they created. Had the patient died, it is possible the board would have found itself at the wrong end of a lawsuit. There is also no full fuel service after 7 p.m. for 100LL, although it can be bought at the self-serve pump, but the new twist is that even the self-serve pumps have been ordered turned off after 10 p.m.

That has made a lot of pilots angry.

Golden, an airport supporter, said it appears to him the new board members want to discourage pilots from patronizing the airport. He asks that pilots, therefore, intentionally patronize the airport whenever their plans call for visits to Truckee-Tahoe.

The new board members, elected last fall, are members of the Community Airport Restoration Effort (CARE) that had raised concerns about land-use and noise related to the airport. The members directed the airport staff to have an "informative" meeting with Kirsch. AOPA officials know the attorney well, since he represented airport opponents in most major battles that AOPA has fought. At press time AOPA Regional Representative John Pfeifer was planning on attending the informational meeting. Kirsch, reached by phone, said he had not yet been retained by the airport and said he did not know what issues the airport wanted him to discuss. He referred an AOPA reporter to the airport staff.

AOPA went to extraordinary steps to prevent the election of the new members last year by taking out newspaper ads informing the voters about the value of the airport. The Truckee-Tahoe Airport has accepted enough funding from the FAA in the past to still have restrictions in place — most last 20 years — on limitations to airport operations. The airport also accepted grants for purchase of land, and those grants require the continued operation of the land as an airport forever. The restrictions prevent discrimination against classes of pilots and types of operations.

It appears the new board members feel that past restrictions that prohibit limiting operations can somehow be evaded, and that the new money now sought of $450,000 must not be accepted to avoid restarting the clock on restrictions already in place. To airport professionals, such views look naive at best, but to attorneys, restrictions are seen merely as a challenge.

The FAA has indeed cut off grant money for airports that issue unfair restrictions on operations, but in one case was sued and ordered to continue the flow of federal money despite violation of FAA grant assurances.

Do opponents want to close Truckee-Tahoe Airport? The board members have never said exactly what their goal is, but it looks to supporters like they are at the very least setting the stage to violate FAA requirements.

And fuel restrictions make it appear the board doesn't want pilots to come at night — a typical goal of noise opponents — and doesn't want the airport to be a refueling stop for long-range jets. One board member stated he wanted to "negotiate terms and conditions with the FAA" according to information in the Sierra Sun, the local Truckee newspaper.

The three new board members seem unaware that half the airport's 1,000 acres was surplus military property and would return to the government, not the community, if the airport ever stops operating.

The airport staff had requested permission of the board to seek a $450,000 grant for hangars already completed at Truckee-Tahoe Airport. The majority of the members — those favoring restrictions on operations — voted instead to seek advice on ways around restrictions that the money would bring, not realizing past FAA money already brought such restrictions. The restrictions have been explained in the past to the new board members by Golden.

"They are in denial," Golden said in a telephone interview.

Governor signs bill protecting airports, charter schools

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on signed into law Assembly Bill 1358, which requires charter schools to notify (in writing) the State Department of Education if they are planning to lease or acquire a new school site within two miles of an airport runway. Public schools already were required to do so. The state Department of Transportation now has to grant approval before a governing board or charter school can lease or acquire the property. The bill was authored by Assemblyman Gene Mullin. AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Roger Cohen thanked Mullin for carrying the bill. "This new law will significantly strengthen the ability of California's departments of education and transportation to protect both charter school students and the state's airports. Our Golden State members appreciate your efforts and congratulate you on the enactment of the bill. This was simply good public policy," Cohen said.

Oceanside studies how to close airport

Oceanside city officials have hired a consultant to study the best use of land beneath Oceanside Municipal Airport and how to close it, if such a decision is reached. The city would have to repay the FAA $3.5 million in grants and loans if the airport is closed.

Two councilmen were opposed, but Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said the airport is preventing the establishment of a Costco in the community, adding that terrorists trained at municipal airports before the 2001 attacks, according to a report in the San Diego Union. AOPA opposes and will continue to oppose any actions taken by the city to move toward closure of the airport.

Rialto contemplates airport closure

Now that a special provision by the U.S. Congress has forgiven Rialto its FAA grant obligations and given it easy payback terms for an unused grant, the city is contemplating whether to proceed with closing the airport and what to do with the land, according to a report in the Riverside Press-Executive. Councilman Ed Scott predicted the airport will be closed and turned into a mix of commercial, retail, housing, and industrial development. Apparently none of those business will need easy access to air transportation. "It's going to put us up there with Rancho (Cucamonga) and Fontana," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Upcoming aviation events in California

November

5-6 — Camarillo. Camarillo Airport (CMA). FAA Knowledge Prep Class with Dennis Renzelman and Ken Coolidge. Call 310/457-2926.

9 — Camarillo. Camarillo Airport (CMA). Surviving Vacuum Failures, with Gene Hudson. Call 310/457-2926.

12-13 — Riverside. Flabob Airport (RIR). Veterans Day Aerial Extravaganza. Call 951/683-2309.

12 — Truckee. Truckee-Tahoe Airport (TRK). EAA Pancake Breakfast. Call 530/587-4811.


"Calendar" is updated weekly on the Web ( www.aopa.org/pilot/calendar/). Weekend flying destinations are posted each Friday in AOPA ePilot.