Santa Clara County Airports

Thursday, November 25, 2004
County takes step on airport expansion
By Putsata Reang
The San Jose (CA) Mercury News

Santa Clara County edged a bit closer toward expanding its South County Airport after the board of supervisors on Tuesday narrowed the scope for an environmental review that will be required before any construction can begin. The 20-year master plan for the county’s three airports — which also includes Reid-Hillview Airport and Palo Alto Airport — calls for extending the runway at South County Airport in San Martin from 3,100 feet to 5,000 feet, and building enough hangars to accommodate 100 more airplanes, including more corporate jets.

The board of supervisors unanimously approved specific areas of study for the environmental impact report, a costly 12- to 18-month process that could begin as early as next summer. But that will only happen if the county can collect enough grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration to move forward, said Carl Honaker, director of airports for the county. Construction is still several years off, he said.

Although corporate jets have occasionally used the South County Airport over the years, a short runway prevents them from being used to capacity because of weight restrictions, Honaker said. Extending the runway to 5,000 feet would allow midsize corporate jets that can seat up to 16 passengers, including crew, to safely fly in and out of the airport, he said.

It’s too early to say how many such jets would find a home at South County Airport, but the scenario could be similar to the capacity at the Hayward Airport, where nine corporate jets operate 5,000 flights a year, Honaker said.

San Martin residents whose homes ring the airport say that increase in the number of flights roaring overhead — added to airplane traffic from other smaller jets — is unacceptable. They worry the expansion is going to create tremendous noise and air pollution and destroy their bucolic community.

But county leaders say they have an obligation to help plan for future transportation needs in the region, and that reliever airports like the one in San Martin help reduce traffic at larger airports such as San Jose airport.

County Supervisor Don Gage said he doesn’t expect South County Airport to ever turn into a busy commercial hub for planes.

“It’s not like San Jose international, where every three minutes jets will be taking off and landing,” said Gage, whose district includes the airport.

Gage added that the plan may or may not come to fruition, depending on whether the need for expansion still exists in future years or if the county can find money to pay for construction.

“This is a 20-year plan that we may or may not execute,” Gage said. “You have to plan for it. It doesn’t mean that in 20 years that that general plan is going to be built out to the max.”