Business and hangar users at the Tehachapi Municipal Airport are hoping construction of a new proposed taxiway will not impact access to the airport’s only runway, or financially limit their business operations if the project is approved in the future.

“We are following the process,” said Ashley Whitmore, the city of Tehachapi's appointed airport manager, city administrative manager and deputy city clerk.

No meeting with all airport tenants was arranged or required and the design and planning for construction is expected to come later, Whitmore said.

However, the public could comment through email or in person at City Hall.

The City Council approved a placeholder application to the FAA for design of the project totaling $210,000 for administration, preliminary expenses and architectural engineering fees at the Dec. 17 City Council meeting.

The project is estimated to cost $4.9 million. The FAA is expected to fund 90 percent, with other funding from Caltrans and a small city match.

The timeline for the design is 2019-2020, with construction of the project spanning over two fiscal years, from 2021-2023. The environmental assessment tentative completion date is this Dec. 31.

However, in the draft a proposed eight months is estimated for the project to be complete.

The process includes submitting a placeholder application, receiving tentative approval from FAA and receiving bids. Then the council would adopt a formal resolution to move forward and a full application would be sent to the FAA, according to City Council agenda documents.

The Tehachapi Municipal Airport Proposed Taxiway Relocation and Reconstruction and Drainage Erosion Control Improvements Environmental Assessment draft — a precursor to actually beginning a project — was posted on the city of Tehachapi website Oct. 25 and discussed at previous City Council meetings.

More than four years have passed since the preliminary EA draft has been revised and sent to the FAA multiple times, said Whitmore.

The draft gives information about the relocation of Taxiway A 28 feet south of Runway 11-29 to fix deteriorating pavement. It proposes to also place drainage pipes and put in erosion control.

“With every extent possible, construction activities will be scheduled during off-peak airport activity periods. Circulation to and from the runway and the balance of the airfield will be preserved each phase of construction. Runway closures will be held to a minimum,” Whitmore said. “We are not doing the entire taxiway at one time. We are doing it in phases so we will start with the northwest portion and drainage.”

Public comments

The public had a month to comment, and their comments focused more on airport operations than environmental concerns.

Many airport users questioned runway and hangar accessibility, the duration of any airport closures, financial reimbursement to tenants if the airport were to close air traffic, and details on taxiway design.

Joe Biviano, a Tehachapi resident and FAA certified flight instructor, sent a list of concerns to the city on why drainage is not listed 700 feet from the east side of the runway, what support there was for taxiway wheel loading design, why run-up areas were not listed on maps for new pavement, and how the rodeo ground areas would be affected by relocated base material from the old taxiway.

In an interview with Tehachapi News, Biviano said, “If I cannot use the runway and it will be inaccessible, I will have to relocate my airplane somewhere else.”

John Tumilowicz, a hangar owner at the airport, said in an email to the city that he was concerned with the new taxiway being closer to hangar locations. He wrote that generation of harsh dust conditions could be a problem.

Paul Scheatzel, a hangar owner for 20 years, said in an interview with Tehachapi News about the draft that, “It was not up to aerospace quality and even the Air Force wouldn’t have accepted a rough draft like this.”

The Tehachapi Airport Hangar Owner’s Association, which represents hangar owners who make long-term financial investments at the airport, also submitted a letter to the city.

“We are always in favor of improvements that are needed at our airport," the letter said. "Our organization is primarily concerned with the operation of this airport; its continued improvement, viability, and its growth as a vital economic engine for this city and its residents. We would certainly like the city to closely communicate with the airport users before any disruptions in operations occurring during this construction period.”

The letter added that the new Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley hospital needed to be listed as opened, a fixed base operator was at the airport and yet was not listed in the EA draft; a specific person capable of transmitting and receiving aircraft messages should be put in place; appointment of a full-time airport manager was needed and the Airport Layout Plan listed in the EA should be updated, plus other suggestions.

Councilman Kenneth R. Hetge, a business owner at the airport, said in an interview with Tehachapi News, “Someone in the aviation field needs to be proactive with the airport users and have a meeting, whether it is an aviation consulting firm or someone from City Hall, that dialogue must be had.”

Hetge’s business, Recover Your Cub, is listed in comments sent to the city by the Tehachapi Airport Hangar Owner’s Association. It is referenced as the fixed base operator and is located at the airport.

Whitmore said that to be a FBO, the business needs to be authorized by the airport, come to the city to apply, be approved at a City Council meeting and there is no fixed base operator currently at the airport.

But Hetge said, “On all the FAA papers I have to submit, I say I am operating as a commercial entity and certified air frame and power plant mechanic with inspection authorization. I have to tell the FAA where I am operating from and that is what is symbolized by what a fixed based operator is. I have never heard of a municipality requiring somebody to come to them and specify that they are a FBO.”

But Ian Gregor, communications manager for the FAA Pacific Division, said that a FBO is "is simply a business that is located on an airport," has a rental agreement with the airport sponsor, would not need a FAA certificate to only sell products, but would need the certificate if the business provides aircraft maintenance or repair, charter flights or flight instruction. said a FBO is, "a commercial business granted the right by the airport sponsor to operate on an airport and provide aeronautical services such as fueling, hangaring, tie-down and parking, aircraft rental, aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, etc."

Environmental findings

Information in the EA found some animals and plants were observed outside the study area or not found to cause an impact to the proposed areas where the taxiway will be relocated.

The study was specific on the areas surrounding the runway and taxiways, and did not include areas by hangars or some parts of vacant land areas. Architectural, archeological or cultural resources were not found or have not been identified yet, said the study.