Pilots honored for protecting California airports

August 11, 2008

When pressure mounted against California’s John Wayne and Van Nuys airports, two pilots stepped up to the plate to ensure their airports, and their livelihoods, would be protected well into the future.

During AOPA Expo’s closing banquet on Nov. 8, AOPA honored Fred Fourcher of Santa Ana and Elliot Sanders of Van Nuys with the Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award and Joseph Crotti Award, respectively, for their actions.

Fourcher founded the Orange County Pilots Association in 2003 to give general aviation pilots a unified voice at John Wayne Airport in the face of mounting pressure against the field. He still serves as president of the association, which now has more than 200 members, and has built a positive working relationship with the airport administration—one which he’s used to improve tiedown availability for the nearly 600 general aviation aircraft based there.

“The Orange County airport has only 500 and some acres available to it,” said Fourcher. “It’s a very small facility and there’s a lot of pressure on general aviation here. It became very clear to me and to other pilots on the field that we needed to be organized, because as the pressure increased in the future we would need to have a collective voice here.”

Airport Manager Alan Murphy said that with 600 based aircraft, “having the pilot’s association, that collective voice, is important to us so that we have a good understanding of what most of the community thinks and what they think is important to them.”

“Very simply, Fred epitomizes the Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. The award is given annually to the private citizen who has demonstrated the greatest selfless commitment to general aviation. “He recognized a potential threat to his home airport and did something about it. And what started as self-preservation has turned into a full-blown working relationship with the airport’s management that continues to benefit general aviation pilots who call John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, home.”

Fourcher’s efforts extend well beyond the airport boundaries. He and the Orange County Pilots Association actively reach out to the surrounding community to promote general aviation. And in 2007, Fourcher traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with a dozen members of Congress about FAA funding and urge them not to support user fees.

Sanders, who received the Crotti Award for demonstrating long-running advocacy on behalf of general aviation in the state of California, took actions similar to Fourcher by helping to form a local airport group.

He and his fellow piston-powered pilots at Van Nuys took steps to protect their access to the airport once they realized that plans in the late 1990s would eventually push them off the airport in order to cater to turbine aircraft.

“The process of getting as much money as they can for highest and best use on the city’s land—the city owns the airport—was ‘constructively evicting’ the piston pilot,” said Sanders. “It became very evident that to stay here, for the convenience of the Central Valley location, to fly an airplane, (and) to have service for your airplane, you were going to pay for it and it was getting very high.”

Sanders helped form the VNY Propeller Association, became AOPA’s Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer at the airport, and was eventually named to the ASN’s Board of Advisors.

He personally attended every airport commission meeting, and lobbied the airport administration and members of the Los Angeles City Council, which oversees Van Nuys. And perhaps most importantly, he worked with area homeowners and won their support for a new area designated just for piston aircraft.

“The homeowners agreed with us that propellers make a lot less noise, so they decided that the best use for the old, unused Air National Guard ramp would be for helping to preserve the presence propellers have here at Van Nuys airport,” Sanders said. “Now the area is designated propeller-only and has a gross weight limit of 12,500 lbs. unless you fall into the variance for older military aircraft. It’s the best possible outcome for the communities both inside and outside Van Nuys Airport.”

“Piston aircraft owners and pilots owe a debt of gratitude to Elliot,” said Boyer. During the award presentation, Boyer explained that the Crotti award was named in honor of AOPA’s first California regional representative and former California director of aeronautics.  “Elliot’s efforts over the past decade have ensured that pistons have a place at historic Van Nuys Airport.”