AOPA Vice President of Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn visited airports large and small during a 10-day trip to western states in August, meeting with pilots, elected officials, and airport administrators to ensure general aviation’s role in determining the direction of local policies. From Southern California to Idaho, changes in airport operations—and in one case, the continued operation of the airport itself—present challenges calling for a strong GA response.
“When AOPA advocates for members’ interests at airports across the country, we face a wide variety of issues—always complex and of critical importance to the affected pilots,” he said. “But our goal is always the same: protection of general aviation’s right of access.”
In San Jose, Calif., a longstanding trend of limiting GA’s presence at the Norman Y. Minetta San Jose International Airport has begun to turn around, he said.
With only one fixed-base operation on the field forcing fuel prices high, and numerous GA hangars and tie-downs long left intentionally vacant by management, AOPA has consistently encouraged the city to respond to GA demand to fill the spaces.
During his western trip, Dunn met with Bill Sherry, San Jose’s aviation director, who said he has directed staff to start the process of renting the GA facilities to interested individuals.
Sherry told Dunn that local officials are also addressing the FBO question. They plan to issue a request for proposals, now that more land for development has become available at the airport as a result of the consolidation of a rental car facility and associated parking lots, and the decision not to seek use of the space by air cargo operations.
“These plans are still evolving, but fortunately they are moving in a direction that will hopefully see light GA aircraft once again welcomed at San Jose,” said Dunn, who urged pilots to make their views known as plans emerge.
A lingering concern is the possible permanent closure of Runway 11/29 at the three-runway airport.
The city plans to study the impact of closure on airport operations. The runway has been closed for two years during taxiway construction.
“There is no guarantee that the FAA would allow the runway to be closed,” Dunn said.
Long-term planning on tap in Santa Monica
Assuring pilot participation in determining the future of the Santa Monica, Calif. Municipal Airport was on tap when Dunn visited for a series of meetings with stakeholders.
AOPA has been engaged in issues at Santa Monica for more than 20-years, and last year provided briefs for Federal Court of Appeals arguments when the city sought restrictions on Category C and D aircraft operations.
Now Dunn is working with City Manager Rod Gould to bring pilots into the airport planning process, with special focus on their attendance at an Oct. 4 city council meeting at which the city’s long-term vision for the airport will be discussed. The meeting is the first in a series of public sessions running through February 2012, as the three-stage planning process moves forward.
“Rod Gould said that the city understands the economic value of the airport both locally and nationally, and has acknowledged that the FAA will maintain its position on keeping it open,” Dunn said.
Dunn held two briefings for the boards of the Santa Monica Airport Association, and the Friends of Santa Monica Airport, on his discussions with city staff and on AOPA’s discussions with the FAA. He urged the groups to work collectively to keep the airport open as a viable GA facility.
Idaho airport replacement plans halted
In Idaho, a five-year effort to find a replacement for the Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey essentially ended Aug. 22 when the FAA notified the airport authority that it would suspend indefinitely any additional work on the environmental impact study of the proposed new airport sites. The FAA cited the expected cost of the replacement airport, uncertainty about FAA grant programs, the limited availability of local funds, and the potential impact on wildlife.
“The focus now turns to enhancing safety at the existing airport, which AOPA has long urged be retained for GA operations,” said Dunn, whose visit to the area concluded just before the FAA announced its decision.
During his visit, Dunn held a series of meetings with members of the Blaine County Pilots Association, other local pilots, local businesses with aircraft based at the airport, two members of the airport authority, and a local journalist to review AOPA’s engagement in the airport issue. He also dismissed as unfounded some reports that the FAA was forcing closure of the airport because of an alleged lack of safety.
“Our advocacy on these issues is a good example of how AOPA is ‘in the field’ protecting member access and promoting GA at airports throughout the United States,” Dunn said.