Sunday, April 23, 2017
Is Banning’s airport a waste of money? Citing use studies, mayor says yes
By Gail Wesson
The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise
Banning City Council will consider taking the first step toward closure of the municipal airport pictured in this 2013 photo.
Faced with declining use and low revenues, the Banning City Council will consider taking steps toward closing the city’s airport.
The move, officials said, would be done with an eye toward marketing the almost 154-acre site for economic development.
The council is expected to vote on a resolution when it meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, at the Banning Civic Center.
Mayor George Moyer said he is leaning toward shutdown based on the use studies — the airport saw traffic drop 71.7 percent between 2010 and 2015, from 4,674 flights to 1,324 — and the fact that the airport is not a moneymaker for the city.
“I’ve seen no need for us to keep wasting money out there,” he said. “We would like to find a developer who would take that on” to convert the property to other uses.
A study done by HcL Companies of Diamond Bar for the city last year and reviewed by the council in September showed that only 38 of 61 hangars at the airport are in use, and some of them are in a dilapidated condition.
“Investing more resources into the airport and providing upgrades would not be cost-effective or provide the city with an adequate return on investment,” according to the HdL report. Airport revenue barely covers expenses.
Art Vela, city director of public works, noted in a staff report that the trend at the city airport mirrored decreases in general aviation nationally.
The airport dates back to the 1940s and has a single, 5,200-foot runway, located south of the 10 Freeway and east of South Hathaway Street. The commercially successful Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon and the Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa are visible northeast of the airport.
Until installation of a 24-hour automated fueling a few years ago, pilots could refuel only during a daytime window when a staff member was present.
The plan to shutter the airport is not new. Back in 2013, the city was a couple signatures away from a prospective two-year agreement with Moreno Valley warehouse developer Iddo Benzeevi to advise the city how to develop the property. The city backed away from the agreement after Benzeevi and his company’s relationship with Moreno Valley civic leaders came under scrutiny.
As yet unnamed investors have expressed an interest in the property and Councilman Don Peterson said he thinks “it will be a great deal for the city” that may make use of the city’s proximity to freeways and rail out of Los Angeles.
Closure, however, could take some years with Federal Aviation Administration consent required.
In airport shutdowns, the FAA must be paid back for unamortized portions of routine grants made for airport improvements. The city estimates that obligation at about $2 million. Peterson said that with the council in recent years considering closure, the city did not accept more grants from the FAA, so he expects the process to be easier than other airports.
In Rialto, it took almost 20 years to shutter that city’s municipal airport. It eventually happened in 2014, with the city relocating some tenants. A few businesses may open later this year as part of the private development of the property.
In Santa Monica, residents for years complained about airport noise and pollution. The city ended up in contentious litigation with the FAA, which agreed to a deal early this year that allows intermediate limits on traffic volume and then a shut down in 2028.
Banning will have to hire consultants to assist with technical studies and other professional services if the council commits to the closure.