Sunday, July 23, 2006
Plan advances to bring housing to airport
By Mark Petix
The San Bernardino County (CA) Sun
RUBIDOUX – For the pilot who has almost everything, the folks at Flabob Airport are offering a chance to call the airport home. The historic airport is working with an Orange County developer to build 85 “aircraft homes” south of the runway, part of a major expansion of Flabob that will include construction of an aviation high school.
The idea behind Masterpiece Skypark at Flabob is to give flying families a home within walking distance of their hangars, said John Lyon, secretary of the nonprofit Thomas Wathen Foundation that bought the airport in 2000.
“Our hope is to get all flying families in there,” Lyon said. “A community for people who really share that interest, who will have barbecues and flyouts and all sorts of things.”
Lyons said there are about 800 residential airparks nationwide.
Most are small and relatively remote, said Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Airport Owners and Pilots Association, a Maryland-based aviation-advocacy group.
“Residential airparks tend to be in more rural areas,” Dancy said. “They tend to be built from the ground up. They’re not usually added to an airport.”
He said Flabob is definitely on to something big.
“People who fly are pretty passionate,” he said. “They’re just as happy to put a plane in a garage as a car.”
The next closest airpark is in the Mojave Desert, which Lyon said gives Flabob a unique opportunity to attract avid fliers from throughout the region.
Masterpiece Communities is redesigning the houses proposed for Flabob after a meeting with potential buyers who balked at two-story homes.
The foundation is hoping to begin construction next year, with single-story homes selling in the low $400,000s.
The Skypark is part of an airport-expansion plan that will bring an industrial park serving aviation-related business, 105 new hangars and the construction of Wathen Aviation High School.
The public charter school graduated its first four students in June.
In the next four or five years, Lyon said the foundation is hoping for a school of 400 students, with career, community-college and university-focused programs emphasizing aviation.
The school will partner with San Bernardino Community College’s aeronautics program, which is moving to Flabob.
How much these projects will cost is still just a guess, Lyon said.
“We don’t have a real number,” he said. “We have a guesstimate of $34 million.”
Airport Manager Leo Doiron said the nonprofit is hoping for donations to help with its ambitious expansion.”
“You can donate,” he said. “It’s tax deductible. They can even have a building named after them.”
When the foundation bought Flabob, it was just hours away from being bulldozed to make way for a housing development.
Now Flabob offers after-school tutoring and other aviation-based programs for children and teens, the intent being to inspire a love of learning through flying.
Foundation Chairman Thomas Wathen, former owner of the Pinkerton Co., said it’s gratifying to see Flabob thriving.
“It’s been a dream all along,” he said. “We had the foundation. We didn’t have a purpose. And it all came together.”