While Santa Clara County, California, supervisors are actively taking steps to close Reid-Hillview of Santa Clara County Airport, some local officials are fighting back—arguing the airport plays a key role in its local community.
Efforts to close the airport date back decades as county leaders have long favored land development over investing in airport infrastructure. County supervisors voted to stop accepting federal grants for airport upkeep—a preliminary tactic toward closing the airport in 2031 when existing grant obligations expire.
However, a subsequent study conducted by Santa Clara County found that soil samples taken at Reid-Hillview contained lead levels below local, state, and federal safety limits. The county suppressed that study and findings, which were only released after local journalists pressed for them.
The county’s rushed decision to ban 100LL fuel drew criticism from AOPA and more than 100 aviation organizations and associations across the country. On October 14, AOPA filed a Part 16 complaint against Santa Clara County arguing that its decision to prohibit the sale of higher-octane fuel causes a safety issue for pilots and is in violation of federal rules and regulations.
Community And Airport Partnership for Safe Operations (CAAPSO) has been working with AOPA and other organizations to build support for Reid-Hillview and highlight the importance of keeping the airport open.
Outreach from these organizations evoked the attention of San Benito County Supervisor Peter Hernandez and San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan. Hernandez participated in an event organized by CAAPSO where he expressed that keeping local regional airports open is vital to ensure California remains competitive when it comes to other world economies and science, technology, engineering, and math education.
“Pilots, cabin crews, mechanics, and support teams are in extremely high demand and offer well-paying jobs for California families. Fortunately, we have airports and educational opportunities available to our children to help them realize their dreams and we should do whatever we can to support those programs. Ensuring these tools are there to foster a child’s imagination is the key to keeping their futures bright, and I wholeheartedly support keeping local regional airports open as they bring value and service to our communities.”
Mahan, who is running for San Jose mayor, also participated in a forum where he expressed the importance of Reid-Hillview, and what it means for future generations. Mahan called for a more transparent and open public process in talking about the airport.
“I think that the city really did a disservice to the community historically by allowing homes to be built so close to the airport…I am concerned that the issue seems to come up around elections. We treat it like a political football. It comes and goes, and I have heard from community members on frankly both sides of the issue.”
While the contentious battle over Reid-Hillview continues to spark debate, progress is being made toward reaching a lead-free future no later than 2030. The FAA recently approved a 100-octane unleaded fuel for almost all of the piston fleet of more than 220,000 aircraft. It is expected that Reid-Hillview and other California airports would be among the first recipients once it becomes available, which should bring and end to the unfortunate political games being played in the state.
In the meantime, CAAPSO Board Member and AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer John McGowan expressed the importance of electing pro-airport leaders: “Pilots in our region should understand that our elected officials at all levels (city, county, state and federal) will ultimately determine the fate of Reid-Hillview Airport and potentially other airports in California. Electing candidates who support general aviation airports should be a priority for all pilots interested in preserving local airports.”
“The viability of California’s community airport system must be maintained, and it is encouraging to see local leaders understand the importance of our airports,” said Jared Yoshiki, AOPA’s Western Pacific regional manager. “Their willingness to engage and stay informed about general aviation issues will provide valuable voices when future decisions are made by our local, state and federal governments."