Outlook for county general aviation airports is good

Nestled in the shadows of the High Desert and mountain region’s aerospace industry and military giants are hardy general aviation airports that survive and even thrive in ever more complex and crowded skies.

Coming off two years of pandemic-driven regulatory and economic headwinds that cancelled public events, cut revenues, and disrupted or closed businesses, some general aviation fields and operators are seeing signs of better times in the year just beginning.

After disappointing back-to-back cancellations of the annual Antelope Valley Air Show at Fox Field in Lancaster, the region’s premiere aerospace visitor attraction is tentatively on track for a resurgence at Edwards Air Force Base the weekend of Oct. 15-16, 2022.

The somewhat redundantly retitled Aerospace Valley Air and Space Show is among 10 major California air shows to emerge from the International Council of Air shows (ICAS) Convention in Las Vegas. The Edwards Air Show is a great grandaddy of aerospace festivals in Southern California, traditionally free of charge and drawing historical crowd numbers in six figures.

“Team Edwards is very excited to move forward with our LACAS partners to bring an air show back to Edwards Air Force Base — the center of the aerospace testing universe,’” Brig. Gen. E. John Teichert, 412th Test Wing commander stated in a news release.

Under constantly changing pandemic rules, air shows have been subject to crowd-thinning change or cancellation on short notice. And in the wake of enormous financial hits taken by annual air shows nationwide, a key topic for discussion at the ICAS conference in December was future scheduling of air shows every other year in hopes of drawing a larger gate for half the work and exposure to financial losses from events where most of the costs are paid up-front.

Depending on construction timing, one major coming attraction expecting a boost in visibility from the Edwards Air show is the non-profit Flight Test Historical Foundation’s new Flight Test Museum rising from the desert floor just outside the Rosamond Boulevard Main Gate. According to foundation reports, visitor center walls are likely to be up prior to the air show.

Excluding the two military airbases at Edwards and China Lake, Eastern Kern County has seven airports that fall at least partly under the heading of general aviation fields.

Counting down from Kernville and Inyokern airports on the north end to the L.A. County line, are California City Airport, Tehachapi Municipal and nearby glider base Mountain Valley Airport, followed by California City Airport, Mojave Air and Space Port, and privately owned but publicly available Rosamond Skypark.

Perhaps ironically, the most heavily populated Los Angeles County portion of region has the fewest general aviation fields at three, ranging from privately-owned Agua Dulce Air Park south of Acton, to southeastern valley glider and ultra-light field Crystalaire, to Fox Field in Lancaster, the county’s only general aviation airport north of the San Fernando Valley, and the only one of the county’s five airports certified for scheduled airline service.

Paul Maselbas, a licensed pilot and assistant deputy director for the aviation division of the County Department of Public Works, is a 39-year employee in the department that only undertook airports operational management a year ago when the county terminated a decades old contract for airfield management and operations.

With most of 2021 spent in transition, reorganization, and responding to the pandemic, Maselbas said setting the long-term agenda for Fox Field is now underway following last year’s completion of a nine-month-long, $14-million runway rehabilitation project

Already on the to-do list since late August 2021 is County Airports Advisory Commission recommendations for creation of a marketing plan intended to improve quality and sustainability of all five county airports.

As a starting point, Arthur Vander Vis, newly appointed head of the DPW Aviation Division, suggested consulting “A Marketing Guide for Small Airports,” and defining at the outset, “What are the goals? Who are the target audiences? What are the messages and the methods to communicate? What kind of budget will it take, and how will the airports measure success?

Vander Vis outlined examples of goals in creating a marketing plan, first defining intended outcomes, followed by a SWOT analysis, examining Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to the airports. Using the foregoing information, he said planners would need to revise goals to reach target audiences, select the tools to reach them, execute the plan, and then monitor and evaluate results.

Currently, Maselbas reports the marketing planners are preparing a series of hearings and meetings with airport stakeholders at each field, intended to include any individual or organization in the community with an opinion.

The 10-member county airports advisory commission, with two members appointed by each county Supervisor, expect to hold public (but virtually conducted) hearing at each airport location in coming months.

In a Jan. 12 interview with Aerotech News, Maselbas acknowledged the COVID-19 economic damage to county airfield customers, tenant businesses and communities, but pointed to sectors emerging with minimal damage and prospects for recovery — especially restaurants, media film and video location shoots, law enforcement, firefighting, flight training and fixed base operations.

Among Fox Field’s major growth milestones was the February 2021 opening of the Airframe and Powerplant Technician Program for general aircraft maintenance, airframe and powerplant — designed for those seeking to take exams for an airframe and powerplant license.

Antelope Valley College is one of the few community colleges in the United States offering composites fabrication and repair. This Airframe and Powerplant Technician Program is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Due to the college administration’s recent decision to suspend in-person classes at reopening of the semester, it was not clear if the remote hands-on program at Fox would be in service.

News that the City of Palmdale is actively seeking to restore scheduled airline service on a city-owned site with adjacency to Air Force Plant 42 runways coincides with Inyokern Airport’s Indian Wells Valley Airport Authority Board interest in renewed interest in attracting passenger service.

As per FAA records, Inyokern had 11,149 passenger boardings back in 2008 and 11,109 in 2010. It was included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2011ñ2015 in the category of primary commercial service airport with more than 10,000 enplanements per year.

Los Angeles County officials report no discussions about possible renewal of service for Fox Field, which has a terminal building and remains the only county-owned airport with room for expansion.

California City Municipal Airport Manager Robert King’s expectations for 2022 soared as monthly jet fuel and avgas sales rose throughout the fourth quarter of 2021, while Hollywood film, video game, and commercial video and audio production activity increased by more than a third at the airport.

King said, “Most of it was sound recording,” as was the case in which video of a Chevy pickup truck’s performance video shot elsewhere was married to roar and rumble recorded on the jet set site. Even the most basic sound production job takes a minimum of two hours, and King says he already has seven booked in coming weeks, and “I gotta babysit ‘em all. Two are scheduled for Monday.”

King, who has managed the airport through smooth and turbulent times for 15 years, attributes much of last year’s growth in aircraft operations, fuel sales and private club fly-ins to Cal City Airport’s constant traffic magnet since the terminal building opened — FOXY’s Landing.

On the infrastructure front, the City Council and the Federal Aviation Administration cleared a path for installation of Distance Measuring Equipment a navigational safety backup system at California City Municipal Airport.

Although the Cal City Airport operates under Visual Flight Rules, the DME installation ensures GPS navigation aid to and from the airport for aircraft flying under instrument flight rules. The FAA will install the system on property leased from the airport.

Tags: ,

More Stories