Tehachapi – Pilots Concerned About Airport Viability

Tahachapi DevelopmentCaltrans addresses motel project compatability – Some local pilots are concerned that certain types of development in the Capital Hills area will eventually mean constraints on activity at Tehachapi Airport and long-term threats to the viability of the 75-year-old airport.

And a national organization — the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association — has put the airport on its watch list of 10 airports nationwide that it is most concerned about.

That action by AOPA followed the city’s approval of a motel project that local pilot and airport business owner Ken Hetge appealed to the City Council followings action by the Tehachapi Planning Commission in late January to allow the motel to be built.

Hetge and others expressed concern that the motel was an incompatible use, and that it will be built too close to the protected flight path of aircraft arriving at and departing from the Tehachapi Airport.

(Picture: A view of the Holiday Inn Express and Denny’s Restaurant in Capital Hills from the end of the runway at Tehachapi Airport. Some local pilots are concerned that more development in the Capital Hills area will eventually result in constraints on airport activity and a national organization has put the airport on its “watch list” for that reason. Photo by Ed Gordon/Tehachapi News)

The City Council approved the project.

AOPA, with approximately 50,000 members in California, opposes development projects in close proximity to public-use, publicy owned airports that could have an adverse impact on airport operations, generate noise complaints or reduce safety of aircraft operations.

Speaking of the proposed development in Capital Hills, including the new Tehachapi now under construction, Hetge and another local pilot, Pierre Hartman, told the Tehachapi News their concern is that as more development goes into the area, there will be more complaints and concerned about the proximity to the airport and eventually there will be more restrictions placed upon the airport.

“I’m older than this airport,” Hartman said. “But I’d like to think it will be around after I’m gone.”

The AOPA has made public records requests of the city.

And on March 14, Tehachapi City Manager responded to an article in the March 2013 isse of AOPA plot listing Tehachapi Municipal Airport (TSP) as among the ten airports around the country it is most concerned about in terms of conflicts and develpment pressure.

In the letter to Graig Fuller, President of the AOPA, Garrett wrote: “I am astounded by the idea that an organization committed to aircraft pilots — and by extension, the airports that utilize for their recreation or business — would choose to negatively brand any airport. I can already hear airplane owners or aviation CEO’s telling their friends and colleagues that they are going to have to rethink a decision to locate in Tehachapi because the airport there is on the AOPA watch list.

Garrett continued, “Regardless of your organization’s feelings on the hotel project issue, might I suggest that you not harm local pilots and airports in the future by negatively portraying the communities in which they are located without attempting first to participate in a positive way. You will do little more than encourage the economic decline of those airports.”

Garrett said, “TSP has been in existence since 1929, and we are confident that TSP will continue to be a general aviation destination to come.”

CalTrans review

Hetge’s challenge of the motel project approval included his contention that it was contrary to CalTrans documents having to do with airport land use.

This matter seems to have been settled by a March 18 letter to hetge from the state Dept. of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics.

In that letter Aviation Planner Ron Bolyard said that his division reviewed the Tehachapi Inn proposal, along with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan for Kern County and the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook.

He said that “according to the ALUCP, the proposed project is within both Savety Zone B1 and Safet Zone D. Table 2A indicates that a hote or motel is not normally an acceptable land use in Safety Zone B1 unless the use meets the density requirements and is ‘allowed only if a major community objective is served by their location in this zone and no feasible alternative location exists.’ From the information I was given for review, it appears that the building is located outside of Safety Zone B1. Therefore, the density requirements would likely be met, and the Tehachapi Inn would be an acceptable land use in the proposed location.”

According to the state handbook, Bolyard said, “the proposed site is within Safety Zone 6 and is a compatible land use. It would normally be within Safety Zone 3. However, because this airport has a single sided traffic pattern, there would be no Safety Zone 3 on that side.”

Bolyard also noted that it had been brought to CalTrans attention that there are “locally used flight guides which state that large aircraft may use the north side of the airport for a downwind traffic pattern, and that twin engine aircraft may fly to the north side of the airport during daylight hours.”

He said the official FAA record for the airport shows a single sided traffic pattern to the south.

“There is no mention about it being acceptable for large aircraft or twin engine aircraft to use the north side of the airport,” he said.

Hetge and others told the city that pilots heading north sometimes prefer to head toward the Capital Hills area, through what they refer to as a “notch” or a low point in the hills.

However, another local pilot George Sandy told the City Council that he does not believe that this is the way that pilot should head after take-off and that they should turn to the left, as Bolyard said the FAA recommends.