Palo Alto Airport as seen on approach
California pilots are mobilizing to protect a half-century-old glider operation at Hemet and halt a land grab that would remove five acres at busy Palo Alto Airport.
AOPA Vice President of Local Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn recently returned from a week in California where he met with pilots, FAA officials, and elected representatives to defend general aviation in Hemet, Paso Robles, and Palo Alto.
“Gliders have been operating safely in Hemet for decades, and their operations there are completely compatible with other airport users,” Dunn said. “We strongly believe they should be allowed to continue soaring over the hills west of Palm Springs where favorable conditions permit them to stay aloft for hours at a time.”
Riverside County officials are taking advantage of an FBO that caters to gliders giving up its lease to permanently bar gliders from Hemet-Ryan Airport. But the Orange County Soaring Association, which accounts for roughly 50 percent of the takeoffs and landings there, doesn’t require an FBO to continue flying.
“The county took federal money and used it for aviation development at the airport,” Dunn said. “The airport has obligations, and gliders should be allowed to continue operating there safely and in accordance with FAA regulations.” After discussions with the FAA on the proposed ban, the agency notified airport management that it (FAA) saw no reason to completely ban soaring operations and that doing so may well be a violation of federal grant agreements.
AOPA on Sept. 22 sent a letter to the Riverside County Economic Development Agency expressing its opposition to the plan to ban glider operations.
In Palo Alto, city officials are attempting to take five acres of undeveloped land on the south side of the hemmed in airfield and turn it into a garbage composting facility. The area is currently used for occasional helicopter operations.
Dunn has asked FAA officials in Washington, D.C., to preserve the land for future airport use.
“The FAA should make it clear that it opposes taking this land for a nonaviation use,” he said. “The airport doesn’t have a lot of land to begin with, and these five acres could be used for aviation purposes.”