FAA Investigating Santa Clara For Airport Maintenance Issues


The FAA has notified Santa Clara County it is investigating noncompliance issues at Reid-Hillview and San Martin Airports with an eye to getting safety issues fixed. In an April 8 letter, the agency detailed a long list of areas it would be looking at on the field including signage and runway markings, areas of pavement undermined by ground squirrels and weed issues on the edge of various paved areas.

The agency says in the letter it’s been discussing the issues for years with the county but hasn’t seen much action. Reid-Hillview especially has been under neighbor pressure for years, and the county has said it wants to close the facility and build affordable housing on the site. The county has also banned the sale of leaded fuel at the airport to prevent exposure to lead by neighboring residents.

Meanwhile, it’s a relatively busy regional airport with about 350 based aircraft and more than 500 movements a day on average, so the agency says it needs to be properly maintained. It’s a federally obligated airport in that it has received a total of $11.6 million from the government for various projects over the years, the most recent being a $46,692 grant for taxiway work in 2011. San Martin, which is much less busy, got $600,000 in 2021. Taking the money requires the county “to maintain and operate its airport facilities safely and efficiently and in accordance with specified conditions,” the agency said in its letter. 

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Even if burning Avgas could possibly cause health problems (no proof of elevated lead levels attributable to GA) whether or not it is sold at any given airport is irrelevant.

    This maintenance ‘issue’ is likely trumped up on the part of local government to add another nail in the coffin of closing the airports.

  2. If lead is a problem then THEY CAN’T BUILD HOMES on the site.
    You cannot say the airport has a lead problem and then move in families to live on it.
    Someone needs to look into who will make money by moving in poor families onto a contaminated area.

    • Yes. I keep wondering about this hypocrisy. If the lead exposure is so dangerous, then how can they plan to use the site for homes?

  3. I’m sure after the airport is gone the ‘lead problem’ will be gone also.

    AVERAGE price of a home in Santa Clara is $1.6 million.

    The airports together constitute about 360 acres. Average urban plot size for a nice home is 1/4 acre there.

    Leaving room for roads, parks, infrastructure that would be about 900 homes.

    What would the property tax be on $1,440,000,000 be?

    $16 million a year.

    End game for the airports.

    Follow the money…

    • Who knows the actual numbers but I think a new home in that area on a 1/4 acre lot would be priced closer to 3M USD if approval could be gotten for such low density.

      Also recent legislation in California makes it very difficult to develop R15 homes currently. Higher density is usually required (with perhaps 10-20% affordable) to get permits.
      15 units per acre is more likely and I would imagine these townhomes would go for about $1.2M each at a minimum. Building costs currently in the peninsula are about $500-600/sq ft. for modest housing.

      • You are probably correct. I just used the average price in Santa Clara county to be conservative in my estimate.

  4. Avweb headlines often refer to Santa Clara rather than Santa Clara County. You would never say “Cook” to refer to the county that Chicago is in. If you said Los Angeles, most people would assume that you’re talking about the city rather than the county. Similarly, most people would assume that your articles are talking about the City of Santa Clara which has no association with those airports.

    • Always looking for brevity in headlines and I used the full name in the story. I don’t think we confused anyone but thanks for keeping us on our toes.

  5. Can you imagine what the alleged “affordable house” would cost if built there. Once the airport is gone, so will be follow up on any promises.

  6. As others have said…follow the money (and who in the public sector will benefit). The old phrase, “Qui Bono?” comes to mind. Politicians and their simpering hangers-on have not changed a whit since the first orator took to the stage in ancient Athens.

    Happens all over the country. My home field faced some political issues driven by developers a couple decades ago. Made it all the way to superior court in the state where the town was roundly slapped down for their underhanded (they brought in appraisers who gave a stupid low figure for what the land was worth) and abusive methods (logging pattern work, claiming planes were flying too low, on and on…) to try and get the owners to sell.

    Finally settled…and the next year, the town sent a tax bill that, while close to what it should be…the owners were quick to challenge based on the lowball valuation THE TOWN HAD CLAIMED the previous year. Yeah, sometimes the little guy wins against the arrayed forces of the political RICO class.

  7. SC County won’t maintain the airports they have and want them closed down. The airplanes will go where? Exactly? Moffett is only an option if you’re in the Billionaire Boys Club. No room at Palo Alto. Push the planes farther south all the way to Hollister? Over the hill to Los Banos?
    I hope the FAA take some sort of enforcement action against SC County. I’m so sick of the endless airport vs development vicious cycle.

    • IMO, the FAA needs to appoint a new airport manager and simply take the local hoodlums out of the loop.

      Congress also needs to declare existing airports will remain airports without some sort of serious process which involves replacing the airport with one very close by.

  8. It will go something like this: Oh, I know we closed the airport due to the lead in avgas, but we were wrong. Actually, revised tests show that there really was no contamination of the former airport site at all. So, no worries and everything can now proceed. (translation: I hope my check in in the mail).

    • There’s got to be a lawyer in in Austin, Denver, or some other place they ripped out the airport who can find “victims” of putting houses on old airports.

      Where are the ambulance chasers when we need one?

  9. The County’s goals are certainly known by their actions. Shut down RHV. One has to understand that the County has three recent FAA investigations against them in addition to one part 16 that they lost around 2012. After the County voted to ban 100LL, the FAA opened a part 13 informal investigation in 2021. That resulted in the County saying they would ‘play nice’ and had a 1 year extension. A second investigation (formal) part 16 was opened by the FAA when AOPA challenged the county’s ban on 100LL. The county has asked for numerous extensions (read: delay tactics) and a finding on the 100LL ban is due in May (unless another extension is given). The FAA recently opened another part 16 on its own (what this article is based on) which points at their lack of maintenance and the part 13 that expired. The County has sought federal funds for San Martin (E16) while RHV they last took in 2011. The problem is that the FAA can really only threaten to withhold federal funds while threatening them with letters/investigations to put them on notice. Certainly, all the politicians can destroy an airport, hand it to developers, and seemingly walk away smelling like roses while the FAA and airport users suffer harm. This is the fundamental problem here. It would be nice if the FAA could just take the airport over (by virtue of default on obligations)….

  10. Here is some pure BS –for you :

    Dear Community,

    First of all,
    Nobody is telling the Pilots at Reid-Hillview Airport to move to San Martin.

    It is hypocritical to claim that –

    The truth is that our Leadership Group has not expressed any support for Pilots moving to San Martin, if that is said anywhere, that would be a misleading statement.


    Since the San Martin people are complaining about a Hypothetical Accident – It is not fair or ethical to claim that the residents of the East Valley can not look into the future with concerns of Airplanes falling and killing residents or students.

    What’s good for the Goose is good for the Gander!!!!

    In Community Spirit,
    Danny Garza

    Plata Arroyo Neighborhood Association and Gateway East N.A.C.