FAA Launches Investigation Into Santa Clara Safety Concerns


The FAA is investigating an array of safety concerns including a ban on the sale of leaded aviation fuel at two airports in California’s Santa Clara County. In a letter to the County, the agency noted that it has “received multiple complaints from airport tenants and users, along with a group representing industry stakeholders” alleging violations of grant assurances at Reid-Hillview Airport (RHV) and the San Martin Airport (E16), both of which have received federal funds. The FAA reports that there are approximately 124 aircraft based at RHV, which sees an average of 573 operations per day. E16 averages 91 operations per day with approximately 34 aircraft based at the airport.

“The FAA is committed to building a sustainable aviation system and a lead-free future, and the agency will work with the County to achieve this shared goal,” the agency wrote in the letter (PDF). “However, in the interim, all parties must adhere to grant assurances. Therefore, the FAA strongly recommends that the County take action to suspend the effective date of its ban on leaded gas at the County-owned airports until this matter can be resolved.”

As previously reported by AVweb, a coalition of aviation organizations sent a letter to the FAA earlier this month asking the agency to take action against the fuel ban, which is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. It has also been alleged that the County is refusing to offer long-term leases for tenants at Reid-Hillview Airport whose leases expire on Dec. 31, 2021, and is considering “pursuing any and all available paths to early closure [of RHV] prior to 2031” when its grant obligations will be met. The FAA has given the County of Santa Clara 20 days to respond to its concerns.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. The County of Santa Clara has a large deficit, so the FAA just needs to sue with enough zeros to get them to fall into line.

  2. the real estate developers and the city of San Jose have been salivating over this plot of land for a long time to turn it into more apartments and condos, can AOPA lawyers and FAA turn up the heat on the city to prevent this tragedy from happening, this is reminiscent of the Chicago Meigs airport destruction by the asshole mayor Daley

    • Exactly. Juan is right. This is obviously an attempt to enter into the first stages of closing this airport. The cha-ching of the cash register is the end game here.

  3. We all see what’s happening: localities hostile to aviation are implementing “nuisance” laws. But overall, Cali is a dumpster fire. Escape while you can.

  4. I share the same knee jerk reaction that Juan does. I lived in Chicago when Meigs was destroyed allegedly because Daley’s wife wanted a park closer to her home.
    However, this airport closing thing seems to be accelerating. Pretty soon there will not be any airports near any city (aside from the big hub class B’s). It would seem that in addition to AOPA, NBAA, and EAA need to step up their PR game proactively in these locales. Perhaps, taking actions like the Nature Conservancy does, and buy the airports outright.
    Suing is reactive. We need to be PROactive.

    • AOPA and NBAA “PR game” has put most of their energy towards $500,000 aircraft owners. They really have not stood up for little bug smasher owners in the past and now they are worried about who will stand up for them.

  5. Santa Clara County officials fail to understand one very simple fact: Airplanes, pilots, and airplane owners are, by definition, extremely mobile. You ban the sale of the fuel I’m required by law to use? Fine, I’ll buy my fuel somewhere else and fly it right back home to Santa Clara County! You’ll still have and extremely minute trace of lead in the air. Santa Clara’s ruling class has done two things: punish the local FBOs and show the world just how stupid elected officials (and the voters who elect them) really are.

    • If Santa Clara prevails, expect to see more airports being banned from selling 100LL. While the end goal of the county is to close the airport, you can expect other cities looking for creative ways to close an airport will be looking to see how this plays out here.

  6. Yes, stupid voters.

    Edmonton Alberta forced closure of Edmonton Industrial Airport – YXD, which had served the city for much of a century. Grand scheme for housing of some kind, but that was realized as uneconomic once someone actually did their homework. Today is a lesser housing development.

    YXD was a good airport for business as it was fairly close to downtown, the International Airport is well south of the city. (It was built when the SAC base north of the city was much closer, SAC left before long, today that airfield is only for helicopters.)

    YXD hosted a shuttle service by Pacific Western Airlines, connecting with Calgary, very busy in 737 days but started with DC-6s if not DC-4s. No reservations, show up we’ll take you, climb aboard, pay on board if you hadn’t paid in the terminal. Occasionally PW drug an airplane from the hanger to take pax to Calgary to honour the promise, though I suspect deals were offered: dinner, hotel room, …

  7. Of course, there is always the rare exception, but Santa Clara officials likely have no working knowledge of aviation, no skills or scientific training whatsoever allowing them to personally speak to this topic on anything but a politically self-promoting level. IOW, they are ignorant elected officials telling the rest of us what to do and how to do it. Whatever.

  8. From the FAA letter: “a majority of Reid-Hillview Airport was purchased using Federal Aid to Airports (FAAP) or Airport Development Aid Program (ADAP) funds.”

    So the county got money from the Feds to buy most of the land for the airport, and now they want to close the airport, sell that land, and pocket the money… Sounds like a pretty good racket.

  9. Considering how the FAA handled Santa Monica, I wouldn’t hold my breath on anything good happening at these fields.