After receiving kudos by the Stanislaus Grand Jury weeks ago for its operation of the Oakdale Airport, the city is now being denounced by the Federal Aviation Administration for its non-compliance with FAA assurances and not operating in a manner consistent with the federal obligations, according to a letter obtained by The Leader.
Most glaring in the 10-page letter addressed to City Manager Bryan Whitemyer from FAA Compliance Specialist Robert Lee is the finding that “…Sierra West Airlines at the Oakdale Airport functions mainly as a non-aeronautical activity” and disapproving the way Sierra West was utilizing the hangars at the facility.
The letter reminds the city that any non-aeronautical use of airport land must be reviewed and approved by the FAA.
“We conclude Sierra West Airlines conducts a business at the airport that is essentially non-aeronautical,” Lee writes, pointing out that Sierra West’s “actual aviation activities” occur in El Paso, Texas. “The (Oakdale) business operates as a dispatcher or reservation service that tracks aircraft and pilot availability to schedule operations outside of the airport.”
The letter was extremely critical of Sierra West’s usage of the three hangars it leases from the city.
An inspection by FAA officials found that Hangar L1 served as a storage facility for car and plane parts and other miscellaneous items for repair services outside of the airport. The back area was also used to store a truck tractor, forklift, and two storage containers, all not having any airport related function.
The larger hangar, L2, did have a Cessna plane (not related to Sierra West services) and an aircraft hull.
Hangar L3 was also used for storage other than for aeronautical purposes.
The City of Oakdale recently entered into a five-year lease with Sierra West, with the option of two additional five-year extensions, for $3300 monthly for all three buildings. That lease, when discussed at a city council meeting, was criticized by some citizens and then-Councilman Mike Brennan.
“The storage of these non-aeronautical items was allowed until certain overhead power lines were put underground,” Lee writes, in regard to the lease agreement. “However this reason would not justify displacing aeronautical use of the airport for the long term.”
Past Leader articles have focused on Sierra West’s operations including revealing the site storage for housing furniture and operating O27 Properties, a business dealing with property rentals and commercial leases in the area.
Lee also mentioned that during their visits to the airport earlier this year they noted the lack of a fixed base operator (FBO) whose services would benefit the airport.
“Therefore, the airport sponsor (city) should strongly considering issuing a RFP (Request For Proposals) in a competitive offering for all qualified parties to compete for the right to be an on-site airport service provider,” the letter states.
The FAA also examined other issues such as the condition of the runways, tarmac, and surrounding areas stating they noticed overgrown weeds, that markings needed to be improved, and some paved areas needed repair.
Since the city had a plan in place and had started making corrections to the facility conditions, the FAA was satisfied that the issues would be resolved.
The FAA also addressed the space rental fees being charged by the city, declaring that it does not generally review rate structures, but added that maintenance needs were not met which may be the result of low or insufficient revenue generation.
City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said he thought the feedback received from the FAA was acceptable and didn’t see the FAA letter as anything disparaging. He said he viewed it similar to the Grand Jury’s letter two weeks ago
“We appreciate the FAA guidance and intend to comply,” Whitemyer said, adding that a plan is being put together to conform to the recommendations. “There were grey areas that have been spelled out that were left for interpretation.”
Whitemyer also said that the city has done a RFP for a FBO but no one has responded.
“Anyone who wants to put in an aeronautical business can,” Whitemyer said, “but no one is asking to at this point.”
Whitemyer said the city will be determining what the fair market value would be for Sierra West to continue leasing the facilities per FAA review and approval.
“If Sierra West goes and no one comes into pay the $40,000 (yearly lease), we will lose that revenue,” Whitemyer said. “If $40,000 goes away, we have to get something else.”