The Little River Airport Pilot Association?s Success

Ten years ago, Little River Airport (O48) was in trouble. Owned by Mendocino County and operated by the Department of Public Works (DPW), the airport had been neglected for years. There was hostility between the pilot community and DPW. Neighbors of the airport were hostile to both the pilots and DPW, believing that no one cared about their concerns. The members of the Board of Supervisors, who ultimately approve any major changes at the airport, were tired of complaints from all sides.

Finally the Board passed a resolution saying that all private hangars on the airport would have to be either removed or sold to the County at an unspecified low price. When concerned hangar owners asked about the terms of purchase and if they’d be able to rent their former hangars from the County, there were no answers.

The hangar owners met and formed an association which hired an attorney. Then one Supervisor came to the airport and asked neighbors and pilots to sit down with him and discuss the problems. He heard about noise and traffic issues from neighbors. He heard about their fears that the airport would be developed in a big way and destroys the peace of their community. He heard pilots’ gripes about hangars, the lack of card-lock fuel, the lack of an AWOS or an instrument approach and general neglect of the airport.

He suggested forming an Ad Hoc Airport Advisory Committee with both Neighbors and pilots as members and asked the committee to report back to subcommittee of the Board of Supervisors which was responsible for airports.

Initially there was intense distrust between the pilots and non-pilot neighbors, but working together to clarify issues and produce reports for the Supervisors was educational for all concerned. Pilots got a better understanding of their neighbors’ concerns and most of the neighbors came to a better understanding of pilot issues.

The hangar owner’s association disbanded after the County withdrew its plan to take over private hangars. We formed a California Pilots Association Chapter to have an airport advocacy group, since the Ad Hoc Airport Advisory Committee had many non-pilot members. Our pilot’s group started doing volunteer work on the airport, painting buildings and removing volunteer trees from the area near the runway. This helped improve relations with DPW, the county department managing the airport.

The Ad Hoc Committee produced a series of reports as well as detailed minutes of each meeting. These helped improve communications and may have helped lead the Supervisors to appoint an “official” Airport Advisory Committee. The public meetings leading up to this were stormy, with much debate over the purpose and composition of the AAC.

We ended up with four non-pilot members (three of whom had to live within 10 miles of the airport) and three pilot members. Although the majority of non-pilots have been a source of friction, it also has been a blessing in disguise. It lends the committee much credibility with the Supervisors, who have so far always approved the committee’s recommendations. Vocal critics of the airport have been appointed to the committee. Over time these critics learn more about airports and aviation and almost always become moderates or supporters of the airport.

A policy of inclusion has worked best for us. By allowing anyone to raise any airport issue at our meetings, we have eventually been able to reach consensus on issues. Compromises have been required; for example we agreed to daytime only approaches for the first year in return for approval of a GPS approach.

We developed a noise abatement policy that has helped reduce the number of complaints. We lobbied successfully for card-lock fuel. The County started writing FAA grant applications and accepting Federal funds in spite of the initial fears of neighbors. The cost of agreement on issues such as these has been endless discussion and repetition.

The non-pilot neighbors initially opposed adding more hangars. After a few years of discussion and a compromise (making the new hangars County owned instead of private), they now support building 16 new county owned hangars.

The formula that seems to work at Little River is: transparency, good communication, inclusion, volunteer work by pilots and an endless supply of patience for a process that is incredibly slow.

Tim Scully
Little River Pilots Association
A CalPilots Chapter

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