Oceanside Airport Ready to Take Off

OCEANSIDE — Though there is still much work to be done, the Oceanside Municipal Airport is on its way to becoming a top-notch general aviation airfield, airport managers told the City Council this week.

Though several of the airfield’s hangars are dilapidated, with roofs sagging and sometimes falling apart, several grants totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars are moving the facility along the path to becoming a respectable airport for small planes.

“It really is a jewel in the North County … and we really are positive and continue to be positive about its future,” said Lydia Kennard, a principal at Airport Property Ventures, which runs the city-owned airport.

172_oceanside172 lands at Oceanside – Photo by Charlie Neuman It was built in 1963, has a 3,000-foot landing strip, 35 hangars and 72 plane tie-downs. The airport has 68 planes renting tie-downs or hangars, and averages 22 landings and takeoffs per day.

Many of the airport’s hangars are run down. The airport has 68 planes in rented tie-down spaces or hangars. — Charlie Neuman

Airport Property Ventures in 2009 took over management of the airport. In years prior it had been a divisive political topic in Oceanside, with several council members hoping to get rid of the airport and replace it with more lucrative developments. The airport became part of several candidates’ campaign platforms in City Council elections in 2006 and 2008.

The Federal Aviation Administration told the city the airport was an important part of the national aviation system, and must remain in use indefinitely.

The company plans to build 10 new hangars on-site by the end of the year and hopes to start work as soon as this summer on a master plan that would guide the development of the airport, said Airport Property Ventures Principal Jack Driscoll.

The airport has had its share of complications, including questions about the foundation on which the hangars are to be built and the adequacy of the airport pavement, Driscoll said.

“I don’t think we understood, and maybe you didn’t, how much had to be done at that little airport — soon to be very busy airport,” Driscoll told the council Wednesday.

He was once general manager of Los Angeles International Airport, among others. Kennard also served as the major airport’s top administrator.

The master plan would create plans for new hangars, taxiways, a revamped apron and a new terminal that could include a restaurant or cafe if there were enough demand. It would also determine whether the airport can be resurfaced or needs to be replaced completely.

Council members were hopeful about Oceanside Municipal Airport’s future and potentially taking business from the county-run McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.

“I think there’s a real opportunity here,” said Oceanside Councilman Jerome Kern. “Palomar Airport is becoming more than a regional airport. … A lot of the general aviation people are wanting to find somewhere else to go.”

Kern, who was the lone dissenting vote when the city hired Airport Property Ventures to run the airport, requested the update given at Wednesday’s meeting. Kern, who cast that vote in 2008, said at the time that he preferred American Airport Corp., which was competing for the contract.

The airport is unlikely to serve aircraft other than the one or two propeller planes that take off and touch down there daily now.

Driscoll said the airport’s runway will probably never be expanded.

“The activity will increase a bit, but not in a huge way,” Driscoll said. “It’s really a perfect little airport for people who have single prop or the smaller twin prop aircraft. … That is its niche and that’s where we would keep it, serving those aircraft and those pilots.”

Agreements with residents’ group Citizens for a Better Oceanside prevented enterprises from capitalizing on the airport, forcing officials there to deny a flight school and a biplane-ride business. The FAA again intervened, saying the city can’t abide by the agreement with the citizens’ group. The airport managers have since reached out to businesses to potentially lure them to the site.

“Flight school will bring a lot more people down,” Driscoll said. “I think it becomes more user-friendly if we can get people in there who want to take a flight around Oceanside, out by the water and around its environment. … That will be good for us, and good for Oceanside.”

There have been several accidents at or near the airport in recent years.

Three occurred on the runway and did not involve serious injuries. In January 2009 a small plane that had taken off in El Cajon crashed near the airport, leaving the pilot with severed fingers but no other serious injuries. In July 2010, San Clemente resident and retired United Airlines pilot Cecil Edward Jones crashed after apparent engine problems. The 83-year-old man died in the accident.

Other North County airports include the Fallbrook Airport, the Borrego Valley Airport, Ocotillo Airport and the Ramona Airport.