FRIENDLIER SKIES? | Airport director hopes layout plan, improved communication will settle turbulent relations with Camarillo officials – VC Reporter

PICTURED: Camarillo Airport looking towards Camarillo. Photo submitted

by Alex Wilson

Keith Freitas started out his new job as Ventura County Director of Airports in November by apologizing for a communication breakdown that left many people fearful that giant Amazon cargo jets could soon be charting a course to land at Camarillo Airport.

A process was launched in early 2021 by the previous airport director, Kip Turner, to update the airport’s 2011 master plan and consider the possibility of allowing commercial airline service or cargo jets at the county-owned airport.

That helped unfounded rumors fly that Amazon wanted to use Camarillo Airport to support the massive distribution center the company was in the process of building just a few miles away in Oxnard. Despite denials from Amazon officials and turned about that possibility, the rumors persisted.

Turner also stirred controversy by suggesting a 1976 joint powers agreement between Camarillo city officials and county government limiting the size of airplanes allowed to use the airport needed to be updated to comply with current Federal Aviation Administration regulations, and remain eligible for federal grants. That position drew a harsh response from Camarillo city leaders who insisted the agreement was still valid and enforceable.

Control tower at Camarillo Airport. Photo submitted

City officials funded a survey showing most residents were opposed to any expansion of the airport’s uses.

Controversies surrounding the airport led to Turner’s resignation, and Freitas was hired partly because he had a strong track record of involving the public at airports he had previously led in Northern California, county government officials said.

Freitas returned to the city council at their July 13 meeting to tell them he’s committed to reaching the same destination they desire, with no major changes to the airport’s current operation as a general aviation airport.

“I started by apologizing how the airport department interacted with the community and the council members. We had started a master plan, we stopped the master plan. There were a lot of concerns and questions about noise, rumors about Amazon and 737s and things like that,” Freitas told the council.

Freitas said instead of revising the master plan, which would have a 20-year horizon, the department has instead received permission from the FAA to conduct a less extensive airport layout plan (ALP) update with a shorter time frame of around seven years. The ALP will have a narrower scope than a master plan update and will be focused on things like runway maintenance instead of the possibility of significant changes to the airport’s uses.

“We don’t look at things like airline service, air freight, touching the length of the runway, any of those things,” Freitas said at the meeting.

The ALP process is expected to start in September and last 12 to 15 months, and Freitas promised there will be ample opportunities for public engagement. He said having a current ALP in place is a requirement of the FAA to receive grants for airport improvements, which are generally funded by the federal government.

Taxiways at Camarillo Airport. Photo submitted

After Freitas made his presentation, Councilmember Tony Trembley said he was pleased with the new approach taken by the airport department under Freitas’s leadership.

“You have provided a breath of fresh air, so I really want to compliment you for this process,” said Trembley.

Following the meeting, Freitas told the Ventura County Reporter that another thing the department is planning to address is a noise study for which officials are seeking nearly $800,000 in federal grants.

“[The study would be] where we look at noise impacts currently and in the future and implement anything that can help us mitigate noise for the community,” he said, adding that the next big capital project they hope to accomplish is a resurfacing of the runway which could happen around 2025 if federal grants for the project are approved.

Freitas also pledged to do a better job on communications than was done by the airport department in the past. Airport officials are in the process of hiring a new spokesperson to improve transparency, he said. “The failure of the airport in the past was lack of communications and letting folks know what was happening. We’re not going to let that happen again.”

Camarillo Mayor Shawn Mulchay told the Ventura County Reporter after the meeting that he’s pleased with the new course being charted by the airport department.

They’ve listened to our concerns and objects as to the course of the airport master plan that they were pursuing. And with the change of leadership at the department of airports with Keith Freitas now at the helm, I think our relationship has definitely mended,” the mayor said. “They intend to be fully compliant with the 1976 joint powers agreement between the city of Camarillo and the county. That’s music to our ears.”

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