Pilots urge San Jose not to turn Reid-Hillview airport into mixed-income housing

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In the Bay Area, new housing opportunities are often considered a good thing. But in San Jose, a proposal by the county that could allow for nearly 200 acres of new mixed-income housing is facing some push back. Specifically, from pilots.

Why? That land is currently the site of San Jose's Reid-Hillview Airport.

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Walt Gyger is the owner of Trade Winds Aviation, a pilot training program that operates out of Reid-Hillview. He is one of several pilots who showed up to the San Jose City Council meeting Tuesday to speak out against yet another county plan that could close the Reid-Hillview Airport altogether.

"I can't reestablish by business someplace else without starting from scratch again," Gyger, who already moved his business from Mineta to Reid-Hillview 20 years ago, said.

The general aviation airport-- which offers pilot training, storage and emergency relief for Mineta San Jose International Airport-- is owned by Santa Clara County. For years, there has been a discussion about closing the airport, but a vote last year by the county board of supervisors not to renew FAA funding for the airport once the current funding ends, suggests the closure could be closer to becoming a reality.

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council reviewed the county's report on the airport, which cited increased costs and decreased revenue, along with maintenance problems, for reasons it should close.

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San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told reporters he is in favor of the proposal so long as the county comes up with a plan to seamlessly transition pilots to a different airport. He said health concerns are a factor.

"I think if anyone were to design a major city today they would not put a small commercial aircraft port in the middle of the city where we know residents are exposed to excessive exhaust and fumes. We know the air quality has an impact on children," Liccardo said. "Right now we have a very large swath of land that is underutilized."

But pilots like Gyger say that in addition to the businesses and pilot training programs, the airport has other important purposes for the community, too.

"The airport is an asset to emergency services," Gyger said. "It's very clearly laid out to make sure that if something were to happen there's a staging ground for emergency services, Cal Fire, and so forth."

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The current FAA grant for Reid-Hillview doesn't end until 2031, so it's unlikely that anything will change until then. Still, the uncertainty for the pilots is concerning.

"For a business, 10 years is not a very long time," he said, "So if I were to do major investments, because my business is growing, I can't make any capital investments for just 10 years."

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