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Reid-Hillview closure bid prompts legal study County supervisors have stepped back from studying closure, and instead voted to study the legal status of Reid-Hillview Airport. Originally, the Santa Clara County board of supervisors considered a resolution to study closing the airport.

Reid-Hillview closure bid prompts legal study

County supervisors have stepped back from studying closure, and instead voted to study the legal status of Reid-Hillview Airport.

Originally, the Santa Clara County board of supervisors considered a resolution to study closing the airport. But objections from AOPA, the FAA, the Reid-Hillview Airport Association, and two members of the board led the supervisors to amend the resolution, removing all references to airport closure.

During a March 18 meeting, the board voted 4-0 in favor of the amended resolution.

“Local pilots responded quickly to the airport closure threat,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of local airport advocacy. “By getting involved, they showed county officials that the airport is truly important to the community. But the threat still remains, and AOPA and local pilots will continue to work to protect this important airport.”

Earlier this year, county officials suggested closing Reid-Hillview as a means of generating revenue to solve its current budget woes. AOPA pointed out, however, that the county retains a legal obligation to keep the airport open.

Reid-Hillview is expected to be a key airport this fall, when AOPA Expo 2008 comes to San Jose. AOPA has discussed the closure threat to the airport with the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Santa Monica ban prompts FAA action

The FAA has filed a formal complaint against the city of Santa Monica, in response to a March 25 ordinance rendering Santa Monica Airport off-limits to aircraft with approach speeds of 121 knots or greater (Category C and D).

An FAA investigation will now attempt to determine if the city is in violation of federal grant obligations and surplus property rules in place since the U.S. government deeded SMO to the city after the Second World War.

Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of local airport advocacy, said details of the agreement between the government and the city require the airport to be operated in perpetuity, and along certain guidelines.

“Clearly, the city’s action is not in accordance with federal grant obligations and the Surplus Property Conveyance of the airport to the city,” Dunn said. “What we have here is an access restriction being placed on a publicly funded airport targeting a specific type of aircraft without FAA approval.”

Under pressure from local interests, Santa Monica has sought to restrict SMO for decades, arguing runway safety in the process. The city first proposed banning Category C and D aircraft in July 2002, citing safety concerns associated with Gulfstreams, Challengers, Falcons, and other large corporate jets that commonly use SMO.

The FAA ruled against the move, however, saying the proposal was inconsistent with the city’s federal obligations and federal law.

In December 2002, the city voted to implement 300-foot “runway safety areas” at either end of SMO’s 4,973-foot Runway 03-21, along with a 300-foot relocated threshold from the departure end of the runway, and the ban on Category C and D aircraft.

The FAA did not approve this plan. In July 2007, the FAA proposed installing an engineered material arresting system (EMAS)—crushable concrete blocks designed to stop aircraft safely—at SMO, but the city rejected the idea, passing the restrictive ordinance instead.

Watsonville pilots fight off encroachment

A Santa Cruz County judge has ruled in favor of Watsonville area pilots and neighborhood advocacy groups seeking to derail the planned construction of hundreds of homes north of the airport.

The Watsonville Pilots Association (WPA), the Friends of Buena Vista (FOBV), and a local Sierra Club chapter had filed suit against the city, citing safety issues as well as the potential for future disputes over airport noise. AOPA has been working with local pilots and its ASN volunteer for many years to ensure appropriate land uses around Santa Cruz County’s only airport.

Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick found the city violated state aviation and environmental law, because its review of the development plan failed to adequately consider the long-term environmental impact. He also said the city failed to consider a reasonable range of alternatives to the home construction scheme.

“The case has many ramifications,” wrote Dan Chauvet, the WPA’s assistant secretary for legal affairs. “At stake for WPA and supporters of Watsonville Airport are the long-term viability of the airport and the continued existence of Runway 08/26.

“For [the State Division of Aeronautics] it affects all airports in California. For FOBV and the Sierra Club it means living with—or not—significant negative environmental effects.”

City officials have said that without their proposed changes, home building in the area would have to be scaled back by a large degree.

“We won the first battle, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens next,” said WPA President Mike McIntyre. “The city may choose to appeal the judge’s decision—we know they want to shut that runway down.”

Auburn faces flight path obstruction

AOPA is following up on a member report that a planned development project could obstruct the flight path to 3,700-foot Runway 25 at Auburn Municipal Airport.

Western Care Construction Company has asked Placer County for a use permit; rezone and general plan amendment for Timberline at Auburn—a proposed project encompassing a retirement community, plus commercial and residential properties.

WCCC’s plan for a 94-acre parcel east of the airport is expected to include a number of three-story buildings, plus about 150 small houses and duplexes. According to a local source, “they’re in the permit stage and this will probably last up to a year.”

Located approximately 33 nautical miles northeast of Sacramento, Auburn Airport is home to more than 200 general aviation aircraft.

Fullerton radio tower collapses—again

A controversial radio tower being rebuilt near Fullerton Municipal Airport collapsed on March 18 because of a construction mishap, adding weight to AOPA’s long-held position that the tower represents a hazard to air navigation.

The previous version of the KFI broadcast tower reached a height of 760 feet, and was connected with a number of aircraft accidents and fatalities over the years. Most recently, a Cessna 182 collided with the tower on December 19, 2004, killing the two people aboard and destroying the tower.

In a March 20 letter to Kevin P. Haggerty, the FAA’s manager of obstruction evaluation service, AOPA Senior Director of Airports Heidi Williams reiterated AOPA’s strong opposition to the reconstruction of the tower. Not only is the tower a physical obstruction, Williams wrote, it distracts pilots’ attention during the critical arrival and departure phases of flight at the Fullerton airport.

If the KFI tower is rebuilt to a planned height of 684 feet, its top will come within 220 feet of the climb/descent area of the airport traffic pattern airspace for both Runway 24 and 6. Williams pointed out that when four or more aircraft are operating in the airport traffic pattern at the same time, the tower would be in direct violation of FAA criteria for airport climb/descent areas.

California legislative update

The state’s current legislative session has seen the introduction of a number of bills with potential impact on general aviation airports and/or operations. You can read the full text of each bill, plus analysis, online.

S.B.1118 would reform California’s airport land use law, by requiring all counties with at least one public-use airport to have an airport land-use commission (ALUC). Over the 40 years since California first established this process, many exemptions and alternative processes have been allowed, in many cases decreasing the protections for community airports. AOPA has actively worked for introduction of this bill, seeing it as a way to strengthen the state aeronautics law by eliminating loopholes that favor the interests of land developers, while precluding and preventing incompatible land use around airports. According to Greg Pecoraro, AOPA Vice President, Regional Affairs, the present system allows ALUC functions to be “administered inconsistently throughout the state, and in some counties, not administered at all.” The bill passed out of committee in a unanimous vote on April 2.

S.B.1462 would require the state to establish requirements for the takeoff, landing, and docking of seaplanes on its navigable waters by July 1, 2009. Proposed requirements listed under the draft bill call upon seaplane pilots to comply with a number of broad guidelines. Among these, pilots were instructed to operate safely and only where they have received prior approval, comply with boating rules where applicable, and not violate landowners’ property rights. AOPA supports this legislation.

H.R.204 is a federal bill calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a feasibility study for applying airport “bubbles” as a means of identifying, assessing, and reducing the environmental impact of airport ground and flight operations. Under the concept, an airport and the area within a specific radius around it are treated as a single source of a wide range of pollutants.

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