By Ted Gablin, President, Redlands Airport Association Chapter of the California Pilots Association
We created our local airport advocacy group, the Redlands Airport Association in June of 2014. The original 24 charter members recognized our airport was under siege. At that time, we were dealing with a reservoir being constructed in a known wildlife corridor less than 1/4 mile from the approach end of our most used runway. We were all concerned about bird strikes as reservoirs are known attractants for birds. The reservoir location was located considerably less than the 10,000’ recommended by the FAA. Additionally, the contractor constructing the reservoir sold the 650,000 cubic yards of excavated dirt to the property owner adjacent to the airport. A portion of the dirt was stockpiled in the runway protection zone of the same runway. The property owner planned on selling the dirt as part of a new sand and gravel business. The dirt was deemed an obstacle by the FAA, but no one did anything about it.
Concerned pilots at Redlands Municipal Airport (REI) complained to city hall, called AOPA, the FAA and the CalTrans Division of Aeronautics. These efforts were done individually by concerned individual pilots without coordination. These efforts, although noble, were not very successful. At the same time this was going on Rialto Municipal was being closed, as the City of Rialto made a deal with a developer for the property. It was only 17 miles from REI. Many of the pilots based at Rialto were moving to REI. Because we were unsuccessful in getting the City of Redlands to take action to save their airport from the ongoing issues, many of us believed REI would be next.
It was obvious that our airport tenants needed to band together to address the serious issues that faced our airport. We believed we would be more successful dealing with our airport issues directly if we coordinated efforts and skills to solve these problems. But airspace issues FAA and state regs designed to protect airspace and airports are complicated. AOPA was sensitive to our problems, but their support was limited to writing a couple of letters for us. Ultimately, after a chance encounter with CalPilots board members at a local airshow, we received some real help. Their volunteers provided great advice and leveraged their contacts to help us fight these encroachment issues our airport was facing.
In our dealings with Cal Pilots we learned about their goals to promote keeping our airports in California:
-To advance public understanding and interest in beneficial use and utilization of aviation in California.
-To conduct seminars to inform members of the public of uses and services of aircraft.
-To conducting training for persons desiring increased proficiency for flight safety.
To provide technical and operational information to public officials regarding aviation safety, regulation, and airport land use zoning.
-To promote the preservation and enhancement of California public airports.
We also reviewed their three-tiered defense strategy for protecting airports. It became clear that what we were trying to do with our association was what CalPilots called “Tier 1 Defense”. It just made sense and supported our decision to organize.
We agreed with their philosophy for airport users to take the lead on resolving airport issues. Local airport issues, airport status and local politics are best known by the tenants and businesses based at an airport. The experiences faced by our new pilots from Rialto, (we call them Rialto refugees) made it clear, no one would ride in on a white horse to save our airports. It’s just impossible for groups such as EAA, AOPA and CalPilots to solve problems without airport user’s involvement. These groups simply do not have the staff and resources to deal with every airport’s issues. These groups are better staffed to provide advice and guidance to airport users that are dealing with issues at their home airport.
Calpilots is a volunteer organization. There are no paid staff. But they are in their roles because they want to be there. They want to help. Many of the staff are consultants that advise California airport sponsors. Some know how the grant process works and can advise their members if your airport sponsor is not operating their airport in an appropriate matter. Some CalPilots board members, because of their airport consultant roles, have working relationships with FAA and Caltrans Division of Aeronautics personnel. Those contacts can be very helpful when your airport is threatened. CalPilots has legal support too. They have an attorney that donates his time and can provide legal advice to their board members working with CalPilots members dealing with airport issues.
We also learned CalPilots is an IRS recognized 501C3 organization. They are also California State tax exempt. These benefits are available to Cal Pilots Chapters. This would certainly help airport groups avoid tax surprises for monies raised for airport advocacy uses at their home airport.
With consideration of all of this support our newly formed Redlands Airport Association took the necessary steps to become a CalPilots Chapter. We have been a member over 6 years and don’t regret our relationship. How did we do on our reservoir dirt pile issue? After 7 years, the dirt pile is 95% gone. The agency operating thew reservoir has spent $1.4 million on plastic balls to prevent birds from landing in the reservoir. These issues are behind us, but we are still dealing with numerous issues that affect the welfare of our airport. The fight goes on….
I encourage all pilots in California to recognize their role to protect their home airport. If you have a local airport association at your home airport, join it and get involved. If you don’t have a local airport association, consider create one. The California Pilots Association can help contact them by phone at