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California pilots fighting airport closure threats

Pilots and aviation groups are determined to convince officials in Banning, California, of the benefits of Banning Municipal Airport while the city council entertains redevelopment bids.

Google Earth image.

An airport master plan update for Banning Municipal was published in 2007 to “provide a direction for future airport development and to ensure that the necessary facilities are improved or made available to meet the forecasted demand for services at the airport.”

The plan established Banning Municipal as an asset that can assist in community development and attract businesses that see the value of the airport. Additionally, it highlighted the airport as a resource for pilots flying in for flight training, facility and service utilization, recreation, and emergency transport, as its location, elevation, and long runway make for a perfect pit stop.

Banning Municipal is also an integral asset for emergency services. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) frequently operates at the airport with its Southern California Air Attack program—fighting fires in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains with a fleet of helicopters and air tankers. Most recently, Banning Municipal was used as a base during the Fairview Fire in 2022, which burned over 28,000 acres in the San Jacinto Mountains.

AOPA has been working alongside local and regional pilots to educate the community and urge the city council to consider the economic and disaster assistance benefits of keeping the airport open. The Friends of Banning Airport was recently formed to promote conversation and education about the airport.

“Airports can present valuable economic revenue streams if local governments are creative and give them the freedom to take advantage of their many positive attributes,” said Jared Yoshiki, AOPA Western Pacific regional manager. “Hangar leases and fuel taxes are just a couple of ways the airport can be financially self-sustaining and alleviate some of the financial pressure on city budgets.”

Investment in additional T-hangars was one of the top recommendations in the master plan—an infrastructure improvement that would bring more pilots to the field and financially uplift the airport and the city. However, in the years since the plan was published, hangars have not been built to accommodate pilots despite an increased demand for airplane storage at the field.

“The city’s limited investment in the airport has stunted potential economic and community benefits the airport can provide,” said Yoshiki.

Three redevelopment pitches were made during a city council workshop in April, during which airport advocates raised concerns about infrastructure and traffic issues that would arise if redevelopment was pursued and reemphasized their support for retaining the airport for Banning residents.

The effort to redevelop Banning Municipal is just one example in an increasing pattern of closure threats at California airports. “The common factor we have observed is the lack of appreciation for the immense value an airport brings to the local community by the city and county governments that control these airports,” said Yoshiki.

But there is hope that local and state leaders are beginning to realize the importance of general aviation in California. California Aviation Caucus Vice-Chair Sen. Richard Roth (D-District 31) authored legislation that will require the California Department of Transportation to assess statewide airport improvement funding needs, which will illustrate the clear need to invest in airport infrastructure.

AOPA will continue to fight airport closures and work with policymakers in the state Capitol to protect general aviation and access to airports.

Lillian Geil
Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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