FAA tells city of Tehachapi special treatment at airport must stop
TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) —
The city of Tehachapi has to make some changes to the how it uses land and hangars at the Tehachapi Municipal Airport after a Federal Aviation Administration conducted a site survey that revealed many tenants, including the city, were receiving preferential treatment.
Sept. 29, the FAA sent a letter to the city stating if changes weren't made to bring the airport into compliance, then future eligibility for FAA grants would be put in jeopardy.
The FAA conducts periodic land use inspections of federally funded airports to detect and correct any inappropriate or unapproved land uses.
Among other things, airport operators must get FAA permission before leasing airport land for non-aeronautical uses. As a condition of the FAA approving a non-aeronautical use, the airport operator must show it would charge fair market value for the land.
The FAA conducted an inspection of Tehachapi Municipal Airport in May. The inspection found that the city’s use of airport property and some tenant lease agreements did not comply with the airport’s federal grant assurances.
According to FAA Spokesman Ian Gregor, specific findings of the May TSP inspection included:
- The lease for the Airport Industrial Center exceeds the FAA’s 50-year maximum lease policy.
- There are non-aeronautical uses of the airport and it appears the tenants were not paying fair market value or leasing for free. The FAA did not approve these uses. It does not appear the city got appraisals of the fair market value of the assets it is renting out for non-aeronautical purposes.
- Two hangars are used by other city agencies for nonaeronautical purposes, rent-free. At the same time, there is an aeronautical wait list for hangars.
- The TSP Airport Layout Plan does not reflect non-aeronautical uses.
A number of nonaeronautical uses may not have been charged fair market value. These include:
- municipal land use for water sewage flow ponds
- the Airport Industrial Center
- Tehachapi Mountain Rodeo Association
- city rent-free use of two hangars, and city rent-free use of land on which it stores vehicles
- Kern County Transit rent-free use of a bus parking lot
- Ken County Red Cross rent-free use of a trailer storage area
- 10 billboards
- a cell tower
The city has 60 days from the time they received the letter from the FAA to send back a corrective action plan detailing how the airport will come into compliance.
At their most recent City Council meeting, many councilmembers voiced their opinion that the best course of action would be to fight back against the FAA.
The city manager stated he was happy to hear this from the council.
Councilman Kenneth Hetge, however, was not happy to hear it and is urging the council to comply.
Hetge rents a hangar at the airport and has since 1990. According to him, these issues are nothing new and are why the airport is constantly losing money.
"We have heard repetitively in Tehachapi that the airport is continually in the red," Hetge said. "Over, and over, and over we've heard that. Unfortunately, when you start looking at some of the reasons it is technically in the red, you start to ask questions. And those exact questions that tenants have asked in the past are the same questions the FAA has asked."
The Tehachapi Municipal Airport has benefited enormously from FAA grants.
In the past 14 years, the airport has received more the $4 million in federal funding from such grants.
According to Hetge, without those grants the airport would fall behind in technology and safety, which would keep pilots away and would ultimately end in the airport's demise.
"At that point, we truly could lose our airport," said Hetge. "If it deteriorates to the point where it is nonoperable, if you can't land, if you can't take off then it's not an airport."
Gregor with the FAA said compliance is the true goal of the FAA's letter to Tehachapi and that discontinuing grants or assessing fines would be an absolute last resort.
However, Hetge believes the council is on a collision course with the FAA, and if they don't change their thinking will force the feds to use that last resort.
The office of the city manager is preparing the corrective action plan which will need to be approved by the council.
Neither the city manager nor the assistant city manager made themselves available for comment.