Wednesday, February 8, 2006
FAA would deny request to close Oceanside airport, letter shows
By Lola Sherman
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
OCEANSIDE – The Federal Aviation Administration says it does not anticipate granting any request to close Oceanside Municipal Airport, as some residents advocate. In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said, “We agree with your assessment of the importance of this airport and of the city’s obligation to keep the airport open for public use.”
The letter says the FAA has rarely allowed an airport closure, “and then only in unusual circumstances,” and only when it can be proven that “reinvestment of funds results in a net benefit to aviation. . . . ”
“The FAA does not anticipate granting any request for release to allow closure of this airport,” Blakey wrote.
Public Works Director Peter Weiss sees a potential loophole in that policy. Weiss said the federal agency can’t force the city to keep operating an airport that loses $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
Airport supporters say the airport would not be losing money if the City Council majority wouldn’t do everything it can to keep the airport from turning a profit.
New hangars have not been opened, and additional hangars, previously authorized, are not being built.
The council majority has called for a study of the land’s potential both as an airport and as some other use if it should be closed.
Issa wrote the FAA in October, saying the airport should not be allowed to close, and Blakey’s reply is dated Dec. 19.
Pilots have been e-mailing city officials asking why the city had not told the public about the letter, but council members Jack Feller, Rocky Chavez and Shari Mackin said they never saw the letter before e-mails over the weekend called it to their attention.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said she was aware of the FAA letter, was not surprised by its content and still believes in pushing forward with a study of potentially more-lucrative alternate uses for the airport site.
Weiss said he also had never seen the letter when a reporter read it to him Monday and was surprised that it was so strongly worded about not allowing closure of the airport.
Dale Neugebauer, Issa’s chief of staff, said the congressman “shared” the letter Dec. 21 with Mayor Jim Wood, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Ronald Cozad, an attorney and pilot (and CalPilots Director-at-Large…editor) who obtained a copy of the letter from regional FAA officials, sent e-mails challenging Mackin’s stand favoring a study of the airport’s potential uses.
The e-mails have so incensed the councilwoman that she has insisted Cozad take her off his mailing list. Mackin noted that Cozad, a resident of nearby Bonsall, is not an Oceanside constituent.
Weiss read from FAA rules that say a “sponsor” – in this case the city – cannot be forced to keep an airport open if it can’t sustain itself.
Feller said Oceanside’s airport would not be in the red if the council majority of Wood, Mackin and Esther Sanchez hadn’t thwarted plans for new hangars that would bring in revenue and hadn’t delayed improvements approved by a previous council.
Feller and Chavez support the airport and have voted against the majority on improvements to the 70-year-old facility in the San Luis Rey Valley.