January 2, 2007
In a time when we read about the constant pressure to close airports (one airport closes every two weeks in the US), it may surprise you to hear that some airports are
growing. South County airport is a one-runway airport nestled in the Santa Clara Valley south of San Jose, and just north of the garlic fields in Gilroy. The colorful history of the airport goes back to the days when it was known as Q99, and when pilots flew-in from all parts of California to visit the Flying Lady Restaurant and watch model airplanes glide across a custom made track on the ceiling.
Unfortunately, the Flying Lady Restaurant is now a memory, however, over the last few years little South County Airport has been undergoing some significant changes. First was a name change when the airport identifier was changed from Q99 to E16 to avoid conflict with the Q airway system proposed, and then later abandoned by the FAA. In 2005, a new FBO, Magnum Aviation, setup shop and replaced long time airport FBO 2Genes. Recently, after some painfully long delays, shiny new hangers were completed by the county, offering much coveted hanger space for pilots in the south bay area.
Upcoming projects anticipated for 2007 include a new AWOS system to improve safety and plans for improved security through the installation of automated electric gates to replace the rusty, squeaky manual gates that someone always seems to forget to close. But the largest anticipated project has been in an airport expansion plan in the works for a number of years.
The Airport Master Plan includes plans for an increased runway length from 3200 feet to 5000, and a second FBO. The plan started with a consultant hired by the county to take inventory of the needs of the local area and put together a plan. It was reviewed, and approved, by the Airport Commissioners (composed of both pilot and non-pilots from the community); and finally presented to the public for input and feedback.
While the wheels of government turn slowly (the airport expansion is estimated to be at least 10 years out), the county has applied for FAA funds to purchase a horse ranch that is for sale to the south to ensure the appropriate land is available for runway expansion, as well as the required safety zones. The FAA will fund 90% of the costs associated with expansion.
The plan has not yet been approved by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, but it has had both positive and negative public debate. The primary rationale in support of airport expansion has been to meet the increased forecasted transportation needs associated with planned economic growth in the area; and to improve the safety of operations of larger aircraft forecasted to utilize the airport. Airports to the north, including Palo Alto and Reid Hillview Airport are at their limit, and San Jose International is already strained with scheduled commercial operations. That leaves South County as the logical place for the growing bay area economic and business needs.
Of course on the other side of the debate, there are airport neighbors and community members of the un-incorporated town of San Martin, who would like to keep the rural feel of the area and prevent further development growth (and associated concerns about increased noise and pollution) threatened by an larger airport.
The final outcome of the Airport Master Plan for South County Airport is unknown and will take many years to play out. However, the pilots in the area, many of them members of the South County Airport Pilots Association (SCAPA), have taken an active role in supporting the process by contributing ideas to the plan, attending public hearing meetings, and developing a close working relationship with county officials.The members of SCAPA took a vote to confirm support for the master plan and put together a position paper that was distributed to local community officials. The purpose of the position paper is to inform the public on how valuable a transportation resource the airport provides and to encourage community support for the airport growth plans. SCAPA?s position paper can be found at http://www.southcountypilots.org/.
The legendary days of the Flying Lady Restaurant may be over, but the pilots of South CountyAirport are excited about the growth prospects for the future and look forward to a bright future in aviation at South County Airport.
President – South County Airport Pilots Association