At the end of World War II the city of Tracy, Calif., picked up two former military airfields as war surplus. When Uncle Sam deeded the properties to the city, which is about 60 miles east of San Francisco, there were restrictions that the airports remain airports in perpetuity.
However, city officials are now asking the FAA to let them close down one of the airports so they can put more resources into the other.
The airports, New Jerusalem (1Q4) and Tracy Municipal (TCY), are less than 10 miles from each other. New Jerusalem is located seven miles southeast of the city, while Tracy Municipal is three miles southwest of the city. Neither has a control tower.
Tracy Municipal sits on 300 acres and sports two runways, 12/30 measuring 4,001 by 100 feet and runway 07/25, which measures 4,005 by 150 feet. There are approximately 120 aircraft based at the field. New Jerusalem’s one runway measures 3,530 by 60 feet. No aircraft are based there.
According to Rod Buchanan, deputy director of community services for the city and the manager of both airports, Tracy Municipal is the busier, more developed facility.
“There are hangars for rent at Tracy Municipal,” he said. “There is fuel available and there are efforts underway to attract a new FBO to the airport. New Jerusalem, on the other hand, is more a runway than an airport proper. There are no hangars and no services. It is basically a runway in the middle of 400 acres. The land around the runway is currently leased for agriculture.”
The idea of closing New Jerusalem has been on the table for awhile, says Buchanan.
“We have had two significant documents that indicate that the airport property should be sold and the proceeds invested to make the Tracy Airport a better airport,” he reported.
One of those documents is an Airport Master Plan from 1998 that the FAA approved. The other is a report from the Boyd Group Inc., an aviation consulting company, on strategic marketing of the airport and future utilization analysis. “The study, which was conducted to find out how we can make the Tracy Airport better, recommended selling New Jerusalem and investing the proceeds in the Tracy Airport,” he said.
The Airport Commission voted to approve the sale, but closing an airport is not that easy. The FAA has to sign off on the sale.
“It is pretty rare that we agree to allow an airport operator to be relieved of [its] obligation to keep the airport open,” said Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA’s Western-Pacific region office. “It is our mandate to keep access to the national airspace system open and to maintain viability of that system.
The only way an airport is permitted to close is if the airport sponsor can demonstrate that the airport is no longer needed. Then they have to make a formal request that they be released from their responsibility.”
The city did submit an application to close New Jerusalem Airport some years back, but the application was “kicked back because it was incomplete,” according to Gregor.
According to Buchanan, it took about a year for the FAA to process the application.
“When they sent back the application they told us the appraisal that was done on the property was out of date,” he recalled. “So members of city staff and the airport commission met with the FAA and asked what steps we had to follow to close the airport, and what they wanted us to do differently and what they wanted us to do more of.”
There also is a possibility that the smaller field could be developed as an airport if the right proposal came along, said Matt Robinson, the city’s public affairs officer.
“While it is a possibility that the land could be sold to a redeveloper, we also have had some aviators come forward and talk to the city about running it as a private airport,” he said.
If the airport was closed, the city would be required to take the proceeds from the sale of the land and reinvest them in to Tracy Municipal.
Robinson predicted that the issue will be back before the city council before too long.
“Transportation is very important in our community, especially air transportation,” he explained. “We have a lot of Bay Area transplants and people [who] work in southern California and other parts of the country. Because of highway congestion and the like they rely on air travel to get where they are going.”
He points to the creation of a Transportation Commission a few months ago as proof of the importance of transportation to the area.
“The Transportation Commission includes not only Tracy Airport but other transportation modes in the city,” Buchanan echoed. “It will take a broader view within the community and still deal with airport issues.”