Big changes in the wind for county-run airports

LANCASTER, Calif. — A reorganized commission appointed to advise County Supervisors on operations of the county’s five general aviation airports, kicked off its first meeting of the year with news of impending plans and changes, and also criticism over supervisors taking controversial action without first consulting their advisory panel.

In the wake of a much publicized single-engine aircraft crash onto railroad tracks on Jan. 9, County Supervisors meeting on Jan. 25 unanimously and without comment directed the Department of Public Works, which manages county airfields, to prepare documents needed to ask the Federal Aviation Administration to close Pacoima’s Whiteman Airport, where the flight originated.

The motion by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose 3rd District encompasses the busy airport, lays the groundwork for action to force closure. Kuehl has previously taken action to close the field. In 2020 the board passed Kuehl’s motion to create a controversial Community Advisory Committee that opposes airport operations.

According to a report in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Kuehl’s motion on Jan. 25 included the comment that FAA process of closing an airport could take a decade or more, making it more prudent to just get the information to expedite the process. The motion instructed the DPW to report back in 60 days on the information to commence a shutdown.

Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger is opposed to the closure.

“I do not support the closure of Whiteman Airport,” Barger said. “The closure of any airport requires thoughtful analysis and investigation by various parties. There has not been any direction by the Board of Supervisors to do so.”

Barger’s advisers Harvey Holloway and Peter Amundson represent interests of Fox Field in Lancaster.

Advisory Commission member Clinton Simmons, representing Compton/Woodley Airport, asserted that ongoing efforts to shut down Whiteman is driven by developers and politicians. He said car and truck crashes vastly outnumber aircraft accidents, “but nobody talks about closing the freeways. There have been airplane crashes at Los Angeles International Airport, but nobody talks about shutting down LAX.”

Calling into the virtual commission meeting’s public comment segment, James Miller called attention to the lapse in communication between supervisors and their advisers. He also criticized media outlets for ignoring the economic, educational, recreational, public and emergency service and transportation values from community airports. Addressing the atmosphere of panic evoked by reports of airplane crashes, Miller said, “Every aircraft crash in the U.S. gets big coverage, because they are so rare.”

Looking back and future vision

News of changes in county airports system came rapidly, beginning with introduction of new Advisory Commission Chair Curt Costagna, who thanked his two-term predecessor, Harvey Holloway, whose new responsibilities for oversight rest entirely at Fox Field.

Then new faces and familiar faces in new roles showed up from the Department of Public Works and its Aviation Division. Jason Morgan of DPW introduced Paul Maselbas, taking over Art Vander Vis in Public Affairs.

Declaring last year’s organizational transition from contracted to inhouse management, Morgan reported 2021 closed substantially across the board and all major construction work was completed at the five airports, including administration offices.

And for the first time, all of the names and most of the faces assigned as airport managers and assistants were introduced to the public. They are:

FOX FIELD — Manager Samuel (Sam) Maghekian.

Assistant Manager Matthew Halls.

SAN GABRIEL — Manager David Price.

Assistant Manager Salvador Euljoqui.

WHITEMAN – Manager Alvaro Escobedo.

Assistant Manager Ernesto (Ernie) Umana.

COMPTON – Airport Project Manager Tanyq Collier.

Manager Liton Lin.

BRACKETT FIELD — Manager Jessee Maloney

Assistant Manager Carlos Dios

On the agenda

Responding to a question from Commissioner Christina Passucci, Morgan clarified that the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are officially on the scheduled to perform at Fox Field in 2023.

Asked by commissioners about the status of the systemwide airports market study plan held over from 2021, Morgan said the group meetings expected to commence this month have been pushed back to February. He said the plan calls for survey information for too distinct stakeholder groups, those with direct interests inside the airport fence line, and groups outside. The outreach is intended to include, among others, EAA, AOPA, CAP and youth organizations.

In other business, commissioners learned that studies into creating new hangar agreements, including aviation and non-aviation hangar space and tie-down fees will be carried out this year. Agreements for FBOs, which typically are for long-term leases, will follow later.

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