NBAA Convention News

Community relations are key to expansion at Chino

 - October 1, 2008, 8:19 AM

Chino Airport (Booth No. 1029) in San Bernardino County, Calif., has learned some valuable lessons from its neighbors to the west. The mounting tensions between local residents and airports such as Santa Monica, John Wayne and Burbank, have highlighted the need for improved community relations and prompted Chino Airport authorities to look beyond their own borders in planning the airport’s expansion.
“Some of the airports to the west of us have not been able to develop a close relationship with the surrounding communities,” said Mark Kirk, chief of staff, San Bernardino County Fourth District. “We’re focused on putting a plan in place for the airport that not only takes into consideration economic generators, but also the needs of the community.”

Chino Airport is one of six airports in the county and is the “backbone” of that airport system, Kirk said. “The airport supports 700 jobs and drives around $145 million in total revenue to the region,” he said. There are currently 65 businesses based at the airport, 51 of which are aviation-related.

The county’s goal, Kirk explained, is to attract both aviation- and non-aviation-related businesses to the airport. “There are a lot of wonderful things about Chino Airport that we believe will appeal to businesses that are looking to expand or relocate,” he said. One of the biggest attractions is the airport’s location.
“In 10 minutes you can be in one of four of the most heavily populated counties in Southern California– Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles [and] San Bernardino.”

Another benefit is the availability of space. “As you look to the west– to John Wayne, Santa Monica and Van Nuys–you see airports that are at their max capacity,” Kirk said. “There’s no hangar space, no ramp space and it’s very difficult to get in and out of [those airports].” In contrast, Chino Airport sits on 1,100 acres of land–60 percent of which is undeveloped. Much of the surrounding land is also undeveloped. “For the next 10 to 15 years, we’re clearly going to be the airport of choice for people who need to find aircraft storage options or ramp space or want an FBO to fly in to and out of,” Kirk said.

In addition, the airport hopes to take advantage of plans by the Southern California Association of Governments to expand business opportunities in San Bernardino County. “One of their big pushes is to create a job hub in [other areas of] Southern California, so everyone’s not driving to L.A. and clogging the freeways,” he said. “So people might not create jobs that are aviation-related, but they might be able to fly executives in to and out of Chino Airport.”

Before the county begins implementing it expansion plans or attracting local businesses, however, it plans to gather input from the surrounding community. “We don’t have specific plans and we don’t have all the answers, but we know it has to be something that works for the community,” Kirk said. “We don’t want big fences [surrounding the airport]. Rather, we want to develop the airport and create it in such a way that it’s an amenity to both the general aviation community and the nonaviation members of the community.”

As part of the outreach process, the county and airport authorities have attended local community meetings to meet with those who would be most affected by airport expansion plans. County officials recently met with a local community group in Riverside County whose members’ homes sit directly under the airport’s flight path, for example. “We want to make sure the surrounding communities have an opportunity to tell us what they would like to see,” Kirk explained. “We don’t want
to set up a stage where 10 or 15 years down the line there’s going to be a public outcry to shut down the airport.”

The county is also in the process of finalizing a deal with a local community college to move the school’s aeronautics program onto the airfield. The airport hopes to finalize the renovation of a 20,000-sq-ft hangar and bring students onto the airfield within the next 12 to 18 months. The hangar will include classroom and office space, as well as space for wind tunnels and airplanes, Kirk said.

Lastly, Kirk said the county hopes to attract a younger generation of residents to the airport. Harrison Ford, chairman of the EAA Young Eagles, recently hosted a community relations event at the airport. “We were very fortunate to have Indiana Jones come out to the airport,” Kirk said. “A lot of the kids didn’t know who Harrison Ford was, but they were so mesmerized by the airplanes, they didn’t care.” Kirk hopes the event– and others like it–will draw more children to the airport. “If you’re
a child and that’s your introduction to aviation, how you don’t grow up and become a pilot is beyond me.”