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Mon, Jan 24, 2005

The Battle Over Rialto Airport

AOPA Files FOI Request To Find Out What's Really Happening With Airport Finances

The AOPA has sprung into action to defend a threatened airport. City officials in Rialto, California, are looking to close or downsize the Art Scholl Memorial/Rialto Municipal Airport. They claim the airport is a "money pit," but AOPA contends they have done little to make the airport viable.

"AOPA will take whatever steps are necessary to keep Rialto Airport open and viable in its present configuration," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports. "The city has a duty and a federal obligation to airport users and taxpayers, and we won't allow Rialto to default on that obligation."

And AOPA is forcing the city's stewardship of the airport into the sunshine. Dunn showed AOPA's resolve on Thursday afternoon by serving city officials with a freedom of information request. Under the California Public Records Act, the city is now required to reveal exactly what is happening with airport funds and to produce communications with consultants and developers.

The 453 acres of airport land, some purchased using federal airport funds, sits right next to the planned extension of the I-210 freeway. A developer is in exclusive negotiations with the city and will present a master plan for the airport and surrounding lands in the spring.

Rialto officials shouldn't be surprised. A consultant's study on airport redevelopment predicted that "the very influential Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is likely to strongly advocate retaining the airport." AOPA, by the way, contends that study has serious flaws.

AOPA and the FAA contend that the city isn't managing the airport and its funds properly. The FAA has reported to Congress that Rialto is "out of compliance" with its federal grants for such things as non-aviation use of airport property, including drag racing on the runway and a go-cart track on airport land. There is an open question about whether all the money generated by the airport is being returned to the airport, as required by federal law.

"The airport and surrounding area is perfectly poised to become a vibrant airport/industrial park, much like Scottsdale Air Park in Arizona, and become an economic engine for Rialto," said Dunn. "The city has an opportunity now to create something that will benefit both pilots and city residents."

FMI: www.aopa.org

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