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FAA pressures Santa Clara County to abide by grant obligations

On February 19, the FAA office of compliance sent a letter to Mike Wasserman, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, reminding the county of its duty to maintain its airports as part of its federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants. The FAA also stressed that the county must take action to mitigate unsafe airfield conditions, such as numerous runway incursions, and address the use of nonaeronautical activity at the airport.

Since October 2018, the FAA has found 14 instances of runway incursions and six surface incidents at Reid-Hillview Airport, which the FAA believes could be eliminated should the county take action on recommendations laid out by a Local Runway Safety Action Team after a site visit last year. Most recently, in January, an FAA Hotline complaint was filed against the county for allegedly failing to repair inoperative light posts adjacent to taxiways and hangars, which present a safety issue for aircraft movement areas on the field.

In another violation, the county has allowed multiple nonaeronautical uses of airport property, including “the development of airport property for solar panel installation, use of airport property for a baseball field and vehicle/trailer storage, and leasing space to commercial vendors.”

Despite the FAA prodding, the Santa Clara County board cited its December 2018 decision not to accept further AIP funds as the reasoning for its failure to address the situation at Reid-Hillview, furthered by its desire to close the field in 2031. However, the county is still obligated to maintain the airport.

In its letter, the FAA wrote, “Based on applicable AIP grant agreements, a federally obligated sponsor may not allow an airport to fall into disrepair while considering closure. While the BOS is well within its right to decline further AIP funding, the BOS remains obligated to operate the airport and all facilities necessary to serve the aeronautical users of the airport at all times in a safe and serviceable condition and in accordance with the minimum standards as may be required or prescribed by applicable Federal, state and local agencies for maintenance and operation.”

In March 2021, the FAA will again conduct another safety meeting focusing on airport improvements. Should the board fail to address the situation at Reid-Hillview, the county might face judicial enforcement.

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