City Cleared To Begin Phasing Out Banning Municipal Airport


An amendment attached to the recently passed FAA Reauthorization Act releases the city of Banning, California, from its obligation to keep its city-owned airport in operation, opening the door to begin phasing the airport out. The non-tower facility, roughly 10 miles west of Palm Springs International Airport, has a 5,000-foot runway. According to the most recent AirNav data (calculated as of year-end 2023), it is home to 22 single-engine aircraft, two multi-engine aircraft and one helicopter. It averages 105 operations per week—75% of which are transient.

The city has been trying to close the airport since 2017, following its 2016 study that concluded: “The airport lacks the necessary infrastructure and demand to remain viable and has become a financial drain on the community.” According to city officials, the study also found that closing the airport “would unlock significant economic potential for the city, paving the way for transformative development and job creation in our region.”

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians tribe owns much of the land adjoining the airport, and the city claims that economic development of that land has been compromised by state-mandated crash zones. Charles Martin, chairman of the tribe, was among those working to close the airport.

Terms of the amendment require the city to repay the FAA for fair market value for 20 acres of airport land it received in a 1983 grant, repay all unamortized airport grant money and redistribute all salvageable airport and aviation equipment to other airports. Banning Mayor Alberto Sanchez said, “We will be working with the FAA on the process to have an orderly closure of the airport in the coming months. We are working to develop a timeline, however, we do anticipate it will take a bit of time for the process to unfold. We will be working with the current tenants of hangars to ensure that there is a relocation assistance plan, most likely at one of the 14 nearby airports.”

Last year, Banning approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with Texas-based Perot Company subsidiary Hillwood Properties to develop the land. Perhaps ironically, Hillwood developed AllianceTexas at Perot Field Fort Worth Alliance Airport. The Hillwood website describes the development as “a 27,000-acre, master-planned development encompassing industrial, logistics, corporate office, retail, aviation, multifamily housing, and more.”

In announcing the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act with the amendment clearing the way for Banning to close its airport, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, D-Cal., said, “For too long, the Banning Municipal Airport has been a financial drain on the community, preventing redevelopment and economic growth. Now, after years of work, the city of Banning and Morongo Band of Mission Indians can finally unlock untapped economic opportunity blocked by the airport. This is a significant milestone for the city and tribe—and a major step toward creating good new jobs for local residents.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


    • Warranted??? No way.

      This is just another case where the zealots don’t like little planes flying around.

      The spread of population will eventually fill the gap between the Los Angeles Basin and the Palm Springs area. This airport would grow with the subsequent demand. Besides, there is no other airport within a reasonable distance. Palm Springs is a busy commercial airport and they don’t want “little planes”. The FBO wants jets, not Cessnas.
      This is an instance of ignorance by city planners, and the zealots that have been elected there. If they knew what they were doing they would embrace the airport and improve it, not close it.
      This is just dumb, dumb, dumb!!! Closing it should not be an option.
      The Indian tribe wants casino revenue — but casinos benefit from airport access.

      • “Besides, there is no other airport within a reasonable distance.”

        Hemet is about twenty miles away – is that unreasonable?

        “The Indian tribe wants casino revenue — but casinos benefit from airport access.”

        The Morongo tribe already has one of California’s leading casino/hotels. And the “airport access” benefits come from two groups: airline service bringing in the masses) or from the private jet set – both of whom can be served by Palm Springs and/or Hemet.

  1. For information use only, there are several other uncontrolled fields nearby that are popular (3 within 20 miles). I’ve flown over Banning a few times, including with my CFI, but never landed there.

    Guess I’ll have to check it out soon before it is gone.

    • I’ve flown into Banning several times, primarily because of IFR conditions at airports closer to the coast. Several times my only options to get into the LA region have been Banning or Hesperia – losing Banning is a major bummer.

  2. I’ve flown in and out of the Coachella Valley for about 60 years, and I’ve used Banning Airport to refuel on occasion. It’s not a busy airport, but it can be quite windy, especially since it’s located within the San Gorgonio Pass (also known as Banning Pass). The surrounding mountains are steep and exceed 10,000 feet, making landings and takeoffs challenging. This is likely a contributing factor to the airport’s low volume of traffic, with only about 5,900 flights per year. Despite that, its location is crucial for fighting fires in Southern California. The closure of Banning Airport is indeed sad.

    • “Despite that, its location is crucial for fighting fires in Southern California.”

      How so? Locally (I live in the mountains nearby), Cal-Fire is based at Hemet airport, about twenty miles to the south of Banning.

  3. Flying over Banning and through the pass is my worst encounter with up and down drafts. As Raf said, the pass is super windy. I was in an Aeronca Champ, entered the pass and up it went. I decided to soar in it. Throttled back to idle the Aeronca went from 7K to 13K in just a very short time. One of Los Angeles Center’s controllers was a member of that Tribe. He was killed many years ago and is buried out there. First time I had heard about the Tribe.

  4. With this new FAA authorization bill approved, which includes a demand that leaded fuel be available at all airports that get subsidies, because of this requirement you will probably see more airport closures.

  5. In the headline: “Begin Phasing Out Banning Municipal Airport” – seems like omission of the airport name, if one is not familiar with California city names.

  6. Banning Pass is always a bad one for wind and turbulence. However it was often an “out” for weather in that area. When the destinations west of Banning were closed due to weather, Banning was often open. I suppose that option will now fall to Palm Springs.

    • Until Palm Springs gets tired of peasant planes and figures out a way to deter their visiting.

  7. 75% of the operations are transient. That’s the real issue here. Our airports are part of a national system much like our highways, bridges, and tunnels. The only difference is that those bits of infrastructure have a larger constituency. By destroying piston GA innovation and usability for 50 years, the FAA along with other bodies has left a small minority of Americans powerless to stop the continuous destruction of the infrastructure we’ve been paying for through fuel taxes.

    This should be stopped, just as if New York State dug up the interstate highways leading out of New England. It should also be stopped because there’s no water for more development in Banning, but that’s up to the so called environmentally conscious Californians.

  8. “would unlock significant economic potential for the city, paving the way for transformative development and job creation in our region.”

    Obviously, the key word here is “paving”.

  9. Ross Perot and Hillwood are involved? That explains how this got into the FAA reauthorization bill. Get ready for some giant distribution centers, huge apartment complexes and requests for tax abatements.

  10. Not Av8trxx

    Wonder if Hillwood might be planning to keep, but privatize the existing airport as part of their “master-planned development encompassing industrial, logistics, corporate office, retail, aviation, multifamily housing, and more” concept?