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Airport Problems Still Loom
This plane is an example of the many types of planes currently using the Oakdale airport at Donnelly Field. - photo by OAKDALE LEADER ARCHIVE


The operational function of the Oakdale Airport essentially remains unchanged as the city council has delayed one longtime lease proposal with one occupant and denied a large hangar lease to another that would have established repair and flight services. Add to that, a city staff reduction that has seen the departure of its part-time airport manager, no public works director in place, and a series of interim city managers has gutted any progress to the 67-year old facility.

The largest occupant, Sierra West Airlines, has been operating out of Donnelly Field’s main building and has been with only a month-to-month lease as the city decides where it wants to take its airport.

Another bid by one company, Time Air LLC, would have added some semblance of a fixed base operator at the site. It was shelved after the bidder failed to show at the council meeting when the bid was discussed and pending questions needed to be asked.

It’s been nearly two years since the City of Oakdale dissolved its airport commission, instead opting for an informal ad-hoc committee to advise city officials on the direction to take the municipal airport.

The former commission was intertwined with airport ties and potential conflicts of interest. The chairperson of the commission, Kendra (Robinson) Peterson, was the daughter of the owner of Sierra West, Debbe Robinson, and served as one of Sierra West’s vice-presidents. Other commission members Kevin Benziger and Dennis Bailey served as board officers for the EAA which was housed at the airport.

“The old airport commission wasn’t moving along,” said Councilman Mike Brennan, liaison to the airport ad-hoc committee. “Now, we have different opinions being voiced, but we’re on the same page focused to improve things.”

Brennan said he expects to see quarterly reports out of the committee and the new city manager, Bryan Whitemyer, working as an integral part of airport operations.

The committee is focused on four things according to Brennan; a business plan for the airport, facility security, proper drainage, and establishing electrical power to individual hangars.

Though the Oakdale airport has no debt, many point that the facility is losing out on taking full advantage of the availability to draw in funds.

Vocal Oakdale pilot and airport tenant Bill Bradford claims other small airports within 50 miles of Oakdale have prospered and generated up to $50,000 per month income in spite of the economic downturn.

“Successful airports depend on business aircraft users or federal and state aircraft activity,” said Bradford. “Maintenance and repair for all based and visiting aircraft brings in taxable sales. Does Oakdale have any of these activities? No.”

Bradford also points to firefighting, medical, and law enforcement air operations as a way to attract positive cash flow.

Bradford said the airport was on the verge of vaporizing and there was no business attracting money to the facility. He said the biggest problem was that the city did not have a dedicated airport manager for the site that understood the regulations, laws, and requirements to be a pilot.

 Sierra West Airlines lauds itself as an on-demand air charter company and is headquartered in Oakdale. The company provides air transportation throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean.

Although the corporate offices are at the Oakdale Airport, its entire fleet is based in Texas at El Paso International Airport where the airline also operates a 12,000 square foot maintenance facility, employing seven technicians. The El Paso site can do routine, line level airframe and engine checks, and engine changes.

No taxable services are rendered at Oakdale.

The company boasts that it has an 8,000 square foot maintenance hangar at Oakdale, which does some overflow work from El Paso, as well as conformity work in which aircraft acquired from outside the country can be brought into compliance with US regulations.

A recent check of the hangar showed no aircraft in the facility, but scattered with home/ rental furnishings such as beds, furniture, and other items believed to be stored for one of its owner’s rental property business.

In mid-2012, the city solicited bids for the airport in hopes of attracting a fixed-base operator. No open bids to attract new businesses were successful and the council has not moved forward with the proposal.

The city has moved forward with some physical improvements to the airport financed through the FAA.

Brennan has been optimistic about bringing a permanent fixed-base operator to Donnelley Field.

“We need a FBO that can do pilot licenses, mechanical repairs, and everyday airport management,” said Brennan. “That is in the future down the road. If you don’t want do that, you’re not going to stay.”