Zweigle's outlook is reflected in the growth in airport operations,
which mirror the growth of Tehachapi.
The population of Tehachapi in 2000 was about 11,000 and the number of
private and corporate aircraft based at the airport was about 60.
Population today is estimated to be about 14,000, and Zweigle said the
number of aircraft is nearing 100 as more private pilots establish homes
in the city and neighboring settlements such as Golden Hills, Bear
Valley Springs and Stallion Springs.
Zweigle, a commercially rated pilot with more than 3,200 flying hours,
said the attractiveness of the Tehachapi region to developers is a big
reason for the increase in annual takeoffs and landings, which rose from
less than 11,000 in 2001 to more than 12,000 last year.
"We're seeing more and more business traffic in and out of here," said
Zweigle, who is assisted by airport attendant Earl Forester, a city
employee for nearly seven years. "It's still a hometown airport, but the
push for housing and commercial development in the Tehachapi area is
bringing in more light jets and corporate turboprops ? businesses
looking to build and invest in the community."
The city airport, at an altitude of 4,001 feet, sits in a mountain pass
that splits the southern San Joaquin Valley from the Mojave Desert. This
makes it an ideal backup landing site for air express companies when
Meadows Field in Bakersfield and other San Joaquin Valley airports are
shut down because of fog.
To help keep pace with airport growth and demand, nine new hangars were
erected last year and all paving was resurfaced, along with minor
repairs to the 4,035-foot runway that angles from northwest to southeast
between State Route 58 on the north and neighborhoods along Tehachapi
Boulevard to the south.
Zweigle said the next big capital improvement project, updating runway
and ramp lights and the field's rotating beacon, will be a prelude to
work beginning in 2009 that will begin reshaping the entire airport -
development of vacant land north of the runway with additional hangars
and a major expansion of industrial sites.
The airport's present industrial park, a large area near the northern
end of the taxiway, offers local tenants - cabinet makers, upholsterers,
auto repair and paint shops, and similar small businesses - easy access
in and out of the airport. The industrial partnership generates revenue
from leases on airport-owned industrial buildings, with the funds going
into the airport's annual operating budget, currently $300,000.
"The industrial park is flourishing," said the 39-year-old airport
manager, who took over in late 2003. "The community is important to us,
and the airport just seems like a good place to do industrial-type
The big expansion projects will begin with a new northside taxiway
identical to the present one on the runway's south side. Next to come
will be connecting taxiways, a large aircraft parking apron and vehicle
service roads to access nearly 20 more hangars and the additional
industrial buildings. Relocation of the administrative-terminal building
to a site in the planned expansion area also is slated.
These projects and more are outlined in a 2003 airport master plan that
reaches out to 2025 with capital improvement recommendations to keep the
233-acre city airfield economically, operationally and environmentally
sound while meeting future aviation needs. Total cost of the phased
projects recommended over a 22-year period has been estimated at $9.3
million, with about two-thirds expected to be Federal Aviation
Administration grants aimed at keeping general-aviation airports like
Tehachapi viable elements of the national air transportation system.
Meanwhile, Zweigle said the airport continues to keep pace with new
An recently installed automated weather observation system gives users
in the air and on the ground an instant update of all weather factors at
the airport, including cloud height and the presence of freezing rain
and lightning. The sophisticated instrument can be accessed by radio and
standard telephone, and over the Internet.
Zweigle said work has begun to upgrade airport security with a
computerized system to "read" vehicle stickers at entrance gates.
"We need to take airport security very seriously," Zweigle said. "If a
terrorist incident or attack originated from a small airport like
Tehachapi, the whole general-aviation system could come down like a
house of cards."
Zweigle said his goal is to maintain a policy that will allow the
community to continue an open relationship with the airport while also
Tehachapi's airport is in the process now of being written into the
FAA's global positioning system of airport approach navigation. When
available later this year, pilots will be able to key a GPS instrument
and match their aerial position to a template of the Tehachapi region
and use the data to avoid hazards and land safely in any weather.
Zweigle said it's possible that an air park, incorporating homes with
hangars and taxiways that link living sites with the main airport
runway, could be developed in the far northeast corner of the airport.
He said several developers have expressed interest in an air park
project. If it materialized, it would be one of very few in the nation
on a municipal airfield.
Rosamond's airport, which is privately owned, is the site of the only
air park in Antelope Valley and homeowners belong to an association.
Two other projects are still in the "talking" stages, but likely will
materialize. Zweigle said a high desert businessman has shown interest
in opening an airport restaurant, and he is confident the details can be
worked out. The other proposal is creating a motocross track on the
airport's north side in the vicinity of the rodeo complex. It, too, is
being looked at favorably by the airport because it is a community
project that would not interfere with air operations.
The airport, even with its close proximity to the established part of
Tehachapi, does not have any serious encroachment problems, Zweigle
said. Buffer zones off each end of the runway to help cut down potential
noise complaints are closely protected from development by city planners.
Zweigle, who lives in Bear Valley Springs with his wife, Julie; their
son Wesley, 9; and daughter, Hunter, 7, said the airport wants to be a
good neighbor. In those instances when a project is proposed nearby, "we
try to work as a team ? to mitigate problems from the beginning so
A city-sponsored aviation camp conducted at the airport in June drew 140
young people who were exposed to all aspects of aviation, including
first-time flights. The weeklong event was spearheaded by local airport
hangar owners who are already preparing for the 2007 program, set for
the last week of June. About 120 young people have already registered in
One of the biggest community boosters of the airport is the Tehachapi
Society of Pilots, which promotes local aviation through community and
airport-related projects and assists in youth programs such as the
Tehachapi airport became a Kern County airport in 1938, the year of the
first air mail flight between Tehachapi and Bakersfield. The airport was
transferred from Kern County to Tehachapi in November 1980.
A destructive 7.7-magnitude earthquake on July 21, 1952, isolated
Tehachapi for several weeks and daily flights into the airport were the
only way that mail, food and medical supplies were received. Aircraft
also brought in work crews that assisted with cleanup operations.