Riverside Councilman Questions Plans for Small Planes at March Airport

Riverside Councilman Paul Davis is taking on two colleagues over plans for a terminal to serve small planes at the former March Air Force Base. Davis has questioned how plans for a small terminal to accommodate private and business pilots at March will affect residents in Ward 4, the part of the city nearest the air base.

He suggested that offering general aviation at March could hurt business at Riverside Municipal Airport.

In an e-mail exchange earlier this month with a city airport commissioner and Councilmen Mike Gardner and Andy Melendrez, Davis wrote he would be “a very visible and outspoken advocate against” the March plans.

Melendrez and Gardner represent the city on the March Joint Powers Commission, a multi-jurisdictional board that oversees development of former Air Force base property. The commission has supported the $1.6 million general aviation terminal concept.

In an interview last week, Davis, who represents Ward 4, said his constituents oppose the plans, adding, “They don’t want Cessnas flying over their house.”

Gardner and Melendrez downplayed Davis’ concerns, though Melendrez said the issue deserves more discussion with residents.

It’s unknown whether flight paths would change for small planes, Gary Gosliga, airport director for the March Joint Powers Authority, told city airport commissioners last week. A few years ago, Riverside residents complained vigorously about noise from nighttime cargo flights operated by DHL, which closed its March operations in December 2008.

Gosliga also said March would likely see far fewer takeoffs and landings than Riverside’s airport.

Gardner noted that Riverside’s airport might be more attractive to small planes because they would potentially have to contend with much larger aircraft at March, which has a long runway.

His role on the March commission, he said, isn’t simply to protect the parts of Wards 2 and 4 that are in the flight path, but “It is to seek to develop good jobs in the area,” Gardner said.

Melendrez said the joint powers commission has several new members since DHL’s operations were approved years ago. “Our focus has really been seeking employers that are going to be good neighbors,” he said.

Final plans for the March General Aviation terminal should be back at the joint powers commission in the next few months, Melendrez said.