A series of meetings to study the feasibility of redeveloping Oceano Airport (L52) in California has trigged a backlash from pilots.
Jeff Edwards, a developer from Los Osos, Calif., says the airport, which sits on approximately 58 acres in San Luis Osbispo, has outlived its usefulness. “It’s time to reconsider redeveloping the land so that it better serves the community,” he said. “Oceano is a recreational airport. There are 10 fixed wing aircraft and two ultralights there. That is it. It is functionally obsolete.”
Edwards suggests that if Oceano is closed, operations could move to San Luis Obispo Regional Airport (SBP). “San Luis Obispo Airport is just eight nautical miles away,” he argued. “It’s a real airport. It has a control tower. Oceano does not. San Luis Obispo has several business there. At Oceano they have self-serve fuel that is always locked up.”
Edwards stresses that he’s just in the fact-finding stage, but when the local pilot community got wind of his idea, they “e-mailed the heck out of the county board of supervisors” prior to a March 2 supervisors meeting. “You push one button and all the pilots react,” he said.
At that meeting the board of supervisors told him that the land is not for sale, and the county is not interested in closing the airport or leasing the land to him, reported Mitch Latting, a local pilot is helping spearhead the airport defense effort. “The supervisors were shocked at his proposal. Despite the supervisors position, we noted that he has attracted a law firm as a business partner. The firm, Chevalte, Alan and Lickman, are experts in aviation development law. They may have big financial backing. Although the supervisors said no to him, we’re not taking any chances.”
Edwards counters that he is not in partnership with the law firm, but he did obtain a feasibility study from the firm in regard to the liabilities and process for closing the Oceano Airport.
Edwards added he has planned five more meetings designed to gather information. He plans to conclude the meetings in August.
According to Latting, pilots were alarmed when, during a radio interview prior to a March 17 meeting, Edwards allegedly stated that he wanted to keep pilots out of the public meeting.
“You can’t discriminate about who you let in and call it a public meeting,” said Latting, who noted that so many pilots turned out for the meeting that was held at a bank because city fire code laws on room occupancy would have been broken had all the pilots piled into the regular county supervisor’s meeting room. “Edwards was told that he needed to find a bigger venue.”
Edwards has a different memory of what transpired.
“To say that pilots were intentionally kept out of the meeting is poppycock! We had limited seating. The pilots were aware there was limited seating and they chose to show up en masse. Of the 22 people who were allowed into the meeting room, 14 were pilots. There were people there from different aviation organizations, such as the Ninety-nines and AOPA. Pilots flew in from all over the country for the meeting but, interesting enough, they all flew into San Luis Obispo Airport rather than Oceano and rented cars and drove to the meeting.”
According to Edwards, he’s “a long way” from “putting something before the county board of supervisors,” adding that he believes the pilots need to get more information before they react.
“They need to keep the emotion out of it,” he said. “Not every airport will be maintained in perpetuity. The pilots need to determine what is best for the community. Oceano Airport is not self-supporting or an economic engine. I don’t think it’s really worth fighting for — there are less than 1,000 operations a year there.”
According to AirNav.com, there are 13 aircraft based at the airport and it averages 27 operations per day. Most of the operations come from transient aircraft. Because of its beach location, the airport is popular with pilots who fly in for the day with their families and picnic on the beach.
“The pilots talked about the beach picnics, saying that this airport is one of the only places that they can fly to and picnic with their families,” said Edwards. “But does that really serve the community?”
One of the pilots who did get to speak at the March 17 meeting was Bill Dunn, vice president of airport advocacy for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).
According to the local newspaper ,Dunn said to Edwards, “I can assure you that we’ll be at these meetings and we’ll oppose you all the way.”
The whole process is confusing to pilots, says Latting, because Edwards has allegedly stated that he will drop the issue if there is public outcry against it.
“At that first meeting Edwards claimed that he had invited a geologist and a ecologist and an economist and a climate change specialist and a coastal access specialist,” Latting mused. “He is using the six meetings to try to convince the local community that tearing down the airport and developing the property is in the best interest of the community. We feel it is quite possible that he could sway public opinion, so we will continue our efforts.”
Latting noted that the airport is important to the community because it provides emergency access to the city if the roads become blocked. “The airport is used all the time for emergency airlifts,” he said.
Latting adds that they have created an Oceano Airport page on Facebook and are using that to keep the public informed.
In the meantime, Edwards plans to continue with his public information meetings. The dates and locations for the meetings have not been determined yet.
“I won’t be making an internal feasibility towards the end of the year, fall of 2010,” he said.