San Diego County voters soundly struck down Proposition A in last November's election, effectively taking Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (MCAS Miramar) off the table as a replacement commercial-service airport for the rapidly growing region. On the heels of the vote, state Sen. Christine Kehoe introduced a bill that would strip the airport authority of its duty as the land use commission and its power to regulate land use in and around the airport.
AOPA has been actively involved in a number of airport issues in San Diego for years. Proposition A — moving from Lindbergh (the current San Diego International Airport) to Miramar — would have likely meant significant airspace issues for general aviation.
"Because Class B surrounds Lindbergh Field, there was a good chance the drastic change in location would have forced major airspace changes," said Heidi Williams, AOPA director of air traffic. "A new site location will require another airspace study, and we'll be monitoring the issue closely."
At this point, it is unclear if the San Diego Airport Authority plans to proceed with studying or selecting an alternative site, or if it will complete a study to explore the feasibility of expanding Lindbergh Field. The FAA said Lindbergh will reach capacity in the next 10 to 15 years.
But Kehoe's bill could change the authority's plans. If the bill is passed in its current form, the authority's power to update the land-use plans surrounding the county's 16 airports would revert back to the San Diego Association of Governments (Sandag).
According to Kehoe, the airport authority has been out of touch with the public's view on the issue of relocation and compatible land use. The defeat of Proposition A confirmed Kehoe's statements and allowed her to move forward on the bill.
What's good for Kehoe and her bill may not be good for pilots in San Diego County. "Because the authority is tasked with protecting the land around San Diego airports, pilots benefit," said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn. "Sen. Kehoe and others didn't like the fact they were so protective of the airports."
Dunn went on to say that because the authority has been successful in drafting strong compatible land use around the area airports, some developers and city governments were unhappy with the authority's proposed land-use plans. Changing the land use authority to the Sandag would likely mean that airport operators, AOPA, and pilots will have to fight harder to keep the land around airports compatible for aviation use, Dunn said.
A perfect example of why compatible land use is important is the ongoing debate over construction of a high-rise office, shopping, and housing complex less than a mile from Montgomery Field (see " AOPA Action in California: AOPA Weighs in on Montgomery Field Threat," December 2006 Pilot).
Dunn said AOPA will monitor Kehoe's bill and ensure that whatever the outcome, compatible land use practices protective of GA airports will continue to be in place in San Diego County, as required to by law.
The California Technical Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (TACA) recently issued its 2006 annual report and 2007 recommendations regarding legislation, funding, and other issues pertinent to general aviation pilots in the state to the California Transportation Commission.
TACA is a statutorily mandated advisory committee that is currently headed by AOPA's California regional representative, John Pfeifer. "AOPA is pleased to have John as the committee chairman," said AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Greg Pecoraro. "I know he'll make sure the committee keeps pilot interests in mind as it weights these issues."
Among TACA's recommendations, AOPA strongly supports the initiative to update the California Public Utilities Code to further solidify and strengthen airport land use law, said Pecoraro. "AOPA is always interested in strengthening airport protection laws." The measure would mean better land use protections for airports, and therefore fewer conflicts with issues like residential development and tower obstructions.
TACA's other recommendations dealt mainly with airport and aviation funding issues, including a recommendation that the transportation commission work to dedicate Aeronautics Account revenues from aviation sources to aviation purposes only. Pecoraro said AOPA supports any effort to better fund California's robust general aviation infrastructure.
"It's clear the group is being proactive, and AOPA supports their efforts," said Pecoraro. He added that AOPA will continue to be very active in Sacramento on these and other initiatives.
The city of Santa Monica, in cooperation with the FAA and a handful of turbine-aircraft manufacturers, recently proposed to increase runway safety at Santa Monica Municipal Airport and comply with FAA airport design standards by installing an Engineered Materials Arresting System at the busy GA airport.
EMAS is a device aimed to stop aircraft that overrun the end of the runway through a carefully engineered arresting system. Currently, crushable concrete is the only approved surface. If an aircraft happens to run off the end of the runway, the concrete will crumble and bring the aircraft to a stop before further damage can occur.
"While AOPA fully supports runway and airport safety efforts, such efforts should not reduce airport utility," said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn. "Given that the issue is at a highly sensitive GA airport, AOPA will be watching the situation closely."
According to an airport official, installing the system would mean shortening the runway's usable distance by a few hundred feet. As this would mean less than 5,000 usable feet, the FAA and the airport are very interested in seeking as much input as possible on this issue.
Pilots may send their comments on how this will affect their operations to Robert Trimborn, Airport Director, Santa Monica Municipal Airport, 3223 Donald Douglas Loop South, Suite 3, Santa Monica, California 90405.
More than 300 pilots of based aircraft at Palo Alto Airport of Santa Clara County are facing an annual 7.6-percent increase in tiedown fees (there are no county hangars at the airport) and a doubling of the present 10-cent fuel flowage fee. The 371 tiedowns currently rent for $111 to $162 per month. Understandably, pilots at the facility are not happy with the higher fees.
Director of County Airports Carl Honaker said the new fee increases are needed just to maintain the status quo of service. A lease with the city, which runs out in 10 years, puts constraints on development, such as hangars, that would help the airport turn the financial corner and erase the need for fee increases. In fact, the county has let it be known it isn't interested in running the airport under such conditions after the 10-year lease expires, but the city isn't interested in being in the airport business.
What could happen in the next decade? NASA could decide to turn over NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field to general aviation, a move that might anger those living near the airport and used to zero daily operations. However, Honaker said the issue may be driven by the need for a reliever airport for area airports that in 10 years will reach capacity. If that happens, Honaker, a pilot, thinks most pilots would move to Moffett with its 9,200-foot runway and ILS facilities, versus the 2,400-foot-runway airport at Palo Alto.
Honaker said Reid-Hillview Airport of Santa Clara County is the real moneymaker in the area and ends up subsidizing Palo Alto. Told of a report by City Auditor Sharon Erickson as reported in the Palo Alto Daily News that Palo Alto has made money 21 of the past 24 years, Honaker said that statistics can show profit or loss for any airport, depending on how they are viewed. The Palo Alto Airport Association and the City Council have stated opposition to the plan, the newspaper reported.
Palo Alto Airport faces not only restraints on development control in the expiring lease, but also problems with a nearby flood plain that make development difficult, Honaker said. "We don't have the $30 million to $40 million it would take for improvements that could make the airport self-sustainable," Honaker said.
The addition of 100 hangars at South County Airport of Santa Clara County has made that airport self-sustainable, he said. Honaker formerly managed Moffett Field.