The FAA has taken strong positions on two California general aviation airport issues. In Oceanside, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey agreed with U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa about the importance of keeping Oceanside Municipal Airport open to the public. In a letter to Issa, Blakey reiterated that the airport is under the protection of federal grant obligations. "Because of the important role that this airport plays in the national airport system, the FAA does not anticipate granting any request for release to allow closure of this airport," Blakey said.
The December 2005 FAA letter itself became part of the hotly charged local political battle. The battle has raged for at least four years after supporters said it was withheld from the public. It finally made it into local California newspapers in February after attorney Ronald Cozad, a pilot who lives just outside the Oceanside area, got a copy and e-mailed it to supporters and city officials. One councilwoman, Shari Mackin, accused him of blocking her e-mail system with that single e-mail and, because he lives outside the Oceanside area, asked him to stop sending e-mails. In an interview with AOPA Pilot, Cozad accused the City Council's airport opponents — three members out of five who have received noise complaints from constituents — of "sabotaging" the airport to make it operate at a loss. What the council actually did was to reject federal funds needed to complete a hangar construction project already in progress. The council ordered an economic study, now scheduled to be completed in June or July, of alternative uses for the airport were it to be closed. There are federal funds already invested in the airport with restrictions that require the airport to remain open.
Half of the first construction phase, now completed, has resulted in the construction of 10 new hangars that are ready for occupancy, but the council blocked funding for the remaining 10 hangars that could have paid the debt service on the first 10. Public Works Director Peter Weiss said the airport would have broken even had all 20 hangars been built. In a second phase there was to be replacement of 30 existing hangars, a new administration building, and a new restaurant. Had that been completed, the airport would have then been self-sustaining, Weiss said. As it stands, the airport loses an estimated $50,000 a year, according to earlier published reports.
Weiss, in an interview, quoted chapter 7 of FAA document 5190.6a called "Airport Compliance Requirements," written in 1989, which says a sponsor such as the city of Oceanside does not have to continue the operation of an airport that loses money.
AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn said the document does not apply to Oceanside, given the circumstances. "You can't force an airport to lose money by blocking the very plan that would lead to financial success, and then complain that it is financially unsuccessful," Dunn said. Dunn was scheduled to travel from AOPA headquarters to Oceanside in early March to meet with city officials and gather information.
No matter what happens, Weiss said, the fact remains that there are serious noise complaints that can never be completely eliminated. He added that he personally has never taken a position on whether the airport should remain open or be closed.
AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Alan G. Cruise has constantly monitored City Council meetings and has worked to inform the local government of FAA requirements concerning airports that have accepted federal money.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said in 2005 that 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 (see " California Action," November 2005 Pilot). She did not return a phone call for this article. Some years ago a shopping center was to be built on 90 acres of land next to the airport that had the interest of the Costco company. Those 90 acres comprise the last large tract of land in the area that is available for commercial development. While the plans for the shopping center are still active, it is unclear whether Costco remains interested.
Oceanside was home to one of two issues addressed recently by the FAA. In Los Angeles, the FAA told Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) that it needs to resolve federal-compliance problems at Van Nuys Airport. For more than six years, AOPA, along with AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Elliot Sanders, has been working to free up space for piston-engine operators. In a stern letter from the FAA's Airports Division, the agency gave LAWA a deadline to submit an airport redevelopment plan detailing when LAWA will stop using aviation property for nonaviation uses. LAWA missed two previous deadlines. "We repeat our instructions and advise LAWA that non-aeronautical uses must be eliminated expeditiously because they cannot be justified," the FAA wrote in a letter to LAWA.
Are fuel prices at five Los Angeles County airports higher than they should be because of lack of competition? In a complaint filed with the FAA by Arcadia attorney and pilot Tulane Peterson, who bases his aircraft at El Monte Airport, suggests that federal and county regulations prohibit the county from delegating exclusive fuel sales rights to American Airports Corp., which manages five L.A. County airports. Peterson said he is just one of a group of 50 pilots who with assistance from AOPA signed the letter to the FAA and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The airports are Brackett Field, Whiteman, El Monte, General William J. Fox Airfield, and Compton/Woodley.
While the letter refers to fuel issues, Peterson said that is only one of several concerns the pilots have. They also question lease rates at the airports and financial arrangements in the contract, which actually was written for a predecessor of American Airports. Peterson said they are concerned that the contract favors profits over airport improvements.
"When I looked at the contract, it was a disaster waiting to happen," Peterson said. "There are diametrically opposed incentives in it. The contract," Peterson said, "indicates that 60 percent of every new dollar of revenue generated by rent increases at the airport goes directly to the profits of the management company." Peterson said the information was disclosed by American Airports at a recent L.A. aviation commission meeting. American Airports is therefore motivated to continually push fuel prices and leases as high as possible to increase profits, Peterson said. Peterson's group contacted L.A. airport officials and was advised that the contract does not provide for American Airports to disclose profits or losses by American Airports from management of the airports. "The county has no idea what the management contract is actually costing Los Angeles County," Peterson added.
Kris Thabit, president of American Airports Corp., said he routinely surveys fuel prices at other airports, and finds his prices are competitive. "We are usually somewhere near the middle," he said. American Airports pays a flowage fee of 30 cents (avgas) or 35 cents (Jet-A) per gallon to L.A. County, which is used to support the airports. Peterson said, however, that in the past the survey included some of the more expensive FBOs and a few FBOs from outside the area. Thabit said that it is true that competitors at the five managed airports must first buy their fuel from American Airports.
Thabit said it is to his company's benefit that pilots not go elsewhere to buy their fuel. "Every pilot would like fuel prices to be as low as possible," he said. Peterson said he always goes to other airports not managed by American Airports to get his fuel. "A lot of other pilots are doing the same thing," Peterson said. He admitted that some pilot groups seem unhappy with the way the airports are managed, and said he is coming up with an action plan to address customer concerns. "The FAA has looked at the contract for a long time and has found nothing illegal in the past 15 years," Thabit added.
In the wake of the February 12 crash in Roseville near Sacramento, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation is encouraging pilots to review the basics of low-and-slow flight. The Roseville accident involved the crash of a Glasair II Experimental aircraft into a house, killing two men in the aircraft and a 19-year-old man who was sleeping in the house. The Sacramento Bee reported that James McIsaac, the passenger who also was a pilot, lived in the neighborhood where the crash occurred and that relatives were watching when the aircraft struck the house. Witnesses told the newspaper that the aircraft was flying low before the aircraft nosed into the house. The newspaper reported that FAA investigators saw no obvious mechanical problems with the engine, although further testing has not been done.
ASF's Maneuvering Flight: Hazardous to Your Health? DVD and a free companion Safety Advisor are both available to pilots. The DVD is sold for $19.95 through Sporty's Pilot Shop, and the Safety Advisor can be downloaded from the Air Safety Foundation's Web site.
In addition, ASF quickly scheduled a special safety seminar for Sacramento-area pilots in late February on maneuvering flight.
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