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New life for New Cuyama

After several years of neglect, New Cuyama Airport in California’s high desert will get a second chance at life after residents, pilots, and volunteers decided it was worth saving.

New Cuyama, California, and the airstrip. Photo courtesy of Steve Sappington.

While some other airports in the state have faced closure threats in recent years, New Cuyama is the anomaly. The airfield has a legion of support from its local community, which hopes to reopen the field by October.

Though challenges with costs and runway maintenance led to the slow decline and ultimate closure of New Cuyama, the airport has long been backed by local pilots and its rural community. For years, there had been consistent talk of reopening, but ongoing tasks and upkeep seemed daunting.

Last fall, a small group of volunteers along with the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the airport, Blue Sky Center, came together to address the issues and chart a course for reopening. Following a generous donation from the San Simeon Fund, there was a renewed energy among the community to finish remaining projects and support the reopening effort.

Project leader and AOPA member Steve Sappington said, “The momentum gained by the Grant to tackle our most costly issue, the airstrip’s surface and RSA, has helped supporters to see light at the end of the tunnel. I am hopeful with donations and volunteer efforts we can complete the remaining tasks and open late this year.”

The New Cuyama Airport was closed after a period of decline. Photo courtesy of Steve Sappington.

Local businesses, pilots, and volunteers agree the New Cuyama Airport is an asset to the region for emergency support, wildfire suppression, and pilot training, and as a landmark for visitors to experience all that the Cuyama Valley has to offer. Its location in the high desert also provides a much-needed safety net for transient pilots flying from California’s Central Valley to the coast as it’s the only option when crossing the surrounding mountains.

“New Cuyama is one of those towns that is still beating in the California heartland. All of the community, Blue Sky Center, [Cuyama Buckhorn resort] and the neighboring property owners support the airport, which is becoming more and more rare these days,” said Michael Kent, a commercial pilot and airport volunteer.

Kent and his wife Velinda have spent years flying around in their backcountry Cessna 182 on what they call reconnaissance trips looking for new places and airports to explore. He described New Cuyama as a sleepy town with a unique character.

A 2021 work party tackled asphalt patching, weed clearing, and other tasks. Photo courtesy of Steve Sappington.

“As pilots we often take for granted our privilege to flit around the United States in our flying excursions. Less than an hour flight from [Van Nuys Airport], even brief visits to New Cuyama are a stark contrast to the Los Angeles [Basin], providing an opportunity to step back in time, to a slower, healthier life,” said Kent.

Like Kent, other local volunteers and pilots have come to cherish the airport as an escape from the city. One pilot from Los Angeles County described New Cuyama as a gift, saying, “We live in a highly populated area and anytime we can escape to a land of empty space, that is something to be treasured.”

Sappington has high hopes for the future of New Cuyama Airport and believes it will be good for the local economy. “Over the last few years, The Cuyama Buckhorn has become a resort destination and I can see the Cuyama Valley as relatively close respite for central and [Southern] California urban pilots who wish to have a quick getaway. In that way, the increase in visitors arriving through [the airport] supports the valley’s businesses and services, which can mean more jobs for the residents.”

While New Cuyama is set to begin a new chapter, there is still work to be done. Taxiway and ramp funds are still needed to meet California Department of Transportation requirements, and leaders still need to draft a maintenance plan. Supporters are asking for help from the aviation community to complete the reopening effort by visiting its fundraising page.

Amelia Walsh

Communications and Research Specialist
AOPA Comms and Research Specialist Amelia Walsh joined AOPA in 2017. Named after the famous aviatrix, she's a private pilot working on her instrument rating in a Colombia 350.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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