Two years ago pilots at the privately owned, public use Santa Paula Airport (SZP) in Southern California wondered if Mother Nature, not the neighbors, was going to be responsible for the death of the airport. The problems began in January 2005 when the rain-soaked river running parallel to the airport eroded a jetty abeam the runway. Without the jetty the runway was exposed. In February the river rose again and took with it 155 feet of the 2,650-foot runway.
Ironically, the airport was created in the 1920s after a flood leveled the land.
The 2005 storm did more than $5 million in damage.
An association made up of 107 individuals owns the airport. The association hired private contractors to pour tons of rock and gravel along the edge of the runway to prevent further erosion. Then they focused their attention on finding a way to reopen the airport, as well as finding the money for the repairs.
“Because we are a for-profit corporation we are not eligible for FEMA or FAA money,” said Rowena Mason, president of the airport association board.
The taxiway was closed and, with the approval of the California Department of Transportation and the FAA, it became a temporary 2,000-foot runway. This gave local pilots a means of getting in and out of the airport.
“We were restricted to the pilots who were already based here,” Mason recalled. “Our flight school decided to relocate to Oxnard Airport and we did lose the paint shop. They were forced to close down. We were closed to the public for about five months.”
According to Mason, some of the tenants who occupied tie-down space at the field also chose to relocate, at least until repairs could be made to the runway and ramp.
“But they all came back!” she noted happily.
The flight school also returned. “But they left the operation at Oxnard as a satellite operation, so you could say something positive came out of all this,” she said.
Although there were lean months, the community pulled together to keep the other airport businesses alive during the partial shut down.
“All the maintenance shops managed to do okay because a lot of people based here at the airport who were putting off work on their airplanes brought them into the shops,” she explained.
Mason noted that state elected officials came to the aid of the airport by helping the owners obtain a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to pay for repairs to the river bank.
“That covered the river, but not the airport,” she said. “But we were able to get a small business disaster loan and thank God for that! It was a loan for over $600,000 and that is how we financed the repair of the airport. It was a huge challenge for us to get the money to get the airport repaired.”
There are now more than 300 airplanes based at the airport, she noted.
“Everyone really pulled together to get the runway back,” she said. “We managed to do it in time for our 75th anniversary in August of 2005.”
The airport’s plight did not go unnoticed by the surrounding community, said Mason. “Our airport is well liked by the community,” she said. “They realize what a great resource we are.”
For starters, the airport is home to the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula, which boasts a vintage aircraft collection. On the first Sunday of every month it is customary for the museum to open its hangars and pull its airplanes onto the ramp for visitors to see. Logsdon’s Restaurant at the airport is a popular stop for lunch on the weekends for people who appreciate airport diners and enjoy watching airplanes.
As the two-year anniversary of the flood approached, Mason noted that the airport is thriving, the restaurant busy and there is even a new paint shop slated to open soon.
“We may also soon have hangar homes at the field,” said Mason. “A private developer is in the planning process of developing 37 homes east of the airport.”
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