Thursday, April 27, 2017

Banning, California, attempts again to close its airport

Robbie Spencer, of Oceanside, has been looking forward to opening a skydiving school at the Banning Municipal Airport, hoping to take advantage of virtually no interference in the air, or on the ground, for his program.

It would replicate success he has had in Perris, and is slated to open at the beginning of May.

A lease agreement of $1,000 a month to rent a hangar, and an additional $1,000 for landing zone rights for Skydive West Coast was approved in February, with 2 percent annual increases.

With a four-year lease signed, he was caught off guard when a reporter asked him about Banning city council’s decision to close the airport.

“This would completely shut me down and put me out of business,” he said. “I think we’d bring a lot of people to the city, and the airport would be a great asset that could host charity events,” a sentiment echoed by a couple of citizens who addressed the issue at the April 25 council meeting.

“FedEx and others will become more viable as the population grows,” Spencer said. “Once an airport is closed, it can never reopen.”

The city, which has not demonstrated much interest in reinvigorating its airport, believes it can lure more immediately lucrative industries to occupy the nearly 154 acres with logistics centers and warehouses that could take advantage of the nearby freeway and rail systems.

In January, it declined to provide incentives to the Banning Work Lofts project to invest nearby.

Banning is relying on a study by Diamond Bar-based HdL, which concludes that having the airport is not currently in the city’s best fiscal interest, and points out the declining trend in consumer aviation as evidence that there is little interest in small, municipal airports as lethargic as Banning’s, which had 1,324 flight operations in 2015, down from 4,674 in 2010 when a recession began.

That compares to more than 27,000 flights in and out of the privately held Perris Valley Airport that year; Riverside Municipal Airport, with 109,865 operations; or the city of Redlands’ municipal airport, which had 43,800 flights that year.

The airport’s operations barely break even, and struggles to make a profit. The 2016-17 operating budget projects $136,285 in expenditures, and $138,750 in projected revenue.

According to HdL, “The highest and best uses for the airport, now or in the future, doesn’t appear to be operating it as a municipal airport,” citing declining general aviation use nationally, reflected at Banning Municipal Airport. “Given its location and adjacent land uses, along with mid to near-term market conditions, any redevelopment possibility of the airport should focus on future land use for industrial development, which could include users such as distribution, logistics, e-commerce, and light manufacturing.”

David Cushing, manager of the Los Angeles Airports District Office has previously told the city that it would have to prove that closing an airport and leaving the FAA with one less venue for air traffic, would be in the federal organization’s best interest, and that the city would have to pay funds to the FAA in order to have air traffic directed to other airports.

That would be in addition to have to pay back Airport Improvement Grants in excess of $2 million.

Cushing had also previously advised the city that it will have to pay back a $5.5 million land grant.

“Airports that accept federal AIP grants agree to keep the airport open for at least 20 years following the receipt of the most recent grant, and Banning last received a grant in 2015 in the amount of $127,170 for installing airfield guidance signs, and removing obstructions,” Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA Pacific Division, said in an interview. Based on that alone, the airport would have to remain open until 2035.

The city estimates closure costs would be between $5,200,000 and $9,200,000.

The city also received a grant in 2013 for taxiway work, according to Gregor.

City council voted 4-1, with councilwoman Debbie Franklin being the lone dissenter, to declare that “it shall be a goal of the city of Banning to close the Banning Municipal Airport as soon as legally permitted, and directing the city manager to implement necessary administrative measures accordingly.”

Original article can be found here:

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