Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Pilots association official backs Oceanside airport
By PAUL SISSON
The San Diego (CA) North County Times
OCEANSIDE — The city’s municipal airport got a boost from the nation’s largest airport association Tuesday.
Bill Dunn, the vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which claims 408,000 members nationwide, joined several local, state and federal officials in a small conference room at the airport Tuesday to lobby for the airport’s future. “We are committed to doing whatever it takes in any way, shape or form to keep the Oceanside Municipal Airport open,” Dunn said. Dunn said his association is willing to help the city find ways to make the airport more profitable, but that it’s also prepared to fight any attempt at closing the airport in court. In addition, he said, the association has hired an unidentified local lobbyist to represent it in Oceanside.
Dunn did not say exactly what that lobbyist might do in the upcoming Nov. 7 general election, when two of the Oceanside City Council’s five seats are up for grabs.
“I’m not in a position now where I am necessarily willing to discuss all of our strategy,” Dunn said.
Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood said Tuesday that while he found the views of the pilots group “interesting,” he would not be intimidated into making up his mind on whether the airport should close.
“I am certainly not going to be intimidated by the people on the hill or by the pilots association,” he said. “I have to represent the whole city on this one.”
In September, the Oceanside City Council voted 3-2 to hire a financial consultant to determine the airport’s “highest and best use.” At the same time, the council declined a $480,000 federal grant to build 10 new hangars at the airport.
The vote prompted cheers from some homeowners who live near the airport and have complained about the noise that planes passing overhead generate. Just as quickly, however, area pilots, many of them members of the Oceanside Airport Association, made it clear they believe the airport to be an invaluable local asset that could not be replaced if it was lost to development.
Dunn was joined Tuesday by representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and the state Division of Aeronautics. Two representatives from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa’s office, R-Vista, also attended, bearing a statement supporting the airport from their boss.
Dunn said that eliminating the airport would do away with one of the city’s key means of attracting visitors and commerce.
“An airport is much like an on- and offramp to a city,” he said.
Ben Meyers, president of the Oceanside Airport Association, was present at Tuesday’s gathering and said his members will do everything they can, including promoting a flight path that follows the San Luis Rey River and keeps away from homes, to keep noise to a minimum.
“We try to be very sensitive because we get the calls,” Meyers said.
Mark McClardy, manager of the FAA’s Western-Pacific Region, walked the length of the airport’s tarmac runway before Tuesday’s press conference and said the city could do more to make it turn a profit.
“These airports are jewels,” McClardy said. “If you lose them, you don’t get them back.”
The airport’s future has long been a topic of both debate and argument in Oceanside. Currently, the city must subsidize its operation, and airport association members say that the facility will not be able to pay for itself unless the city builds 10 more hangars.
The current council majority has been reluctant to begin building on land that is valuable and so close to busy Highway 76.
Though the City Council was not invited to Tuesday’s meeting, Dunn said he personally visited four of the panel’s members in early May. He said only Councilwoman Esther Sanchez did not meet with him
Sanchez said Tuesday that she never received a request.
“I was completely unaware that they were trying to see me,” Sanchez said. “My aide said we had no e-mail, or phone calls or mail requesting a meeting.”