The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 4, 2018 voted 3-2 to stop accepting FAA grants that assist in Reid-Hillview Airport (RHV) operations, with anticipated airport closure in 2031. Those voting for the measure intend to use the site for housing, even though alternatives exist that do not require demolishing an irreplaceable asset.
I observed the public board meeting before the vote, and misconceptions the community voiced were disturbing. One major misconception was that RHV only serves the “white elite.” As an Asian American from a lower-socioeconomic status family, I am proud that my perspective of accessibility to aviation and its benefits is not unique. During flight instruction, my peers included people of all demographics and we cheered each other on regardless of background.
The board meeting inspired me to correct this misconception and others,by reaching out to the community through photography. I serendipitously met Vijay Rajvaidya, a South Indian immigrant who attributes a positive, multi-generational impact on his family to RHV.
He recalls: “Aviation, and particularly Reid-Hillview Airport, has blessed my family since my children were in high school. I pursued my pilot’s license and my son was inspired to complete an Aerospace Engineering degree from Embry-Riddle, the “Harvard” of aeronautical engineering. We’ve had very fulfilling careers. Recently, I was asked by the local Rotary Club chapter to address a group of predominantly Latino students and it was so rewarding to see their excitement around aviation and their access to aviation-related opportunities by being so close to RHV. I loved that I could pass something that blessed my family onto others.”
As another example, my flight instructor, Batelle Rachmian, immigrated to the United States from Israel and built a career around flight instruction, which she used to form a nonprofit whose mission was to increase access to aviation for youth of lower socioeconomic statuses and to provide them with marketable skills. This is the power of aviation – it changes lives, creates value, and builds strong communities.
For those further removed from the world of aviation, RHV and other airports like it provide innumerable benefits to their communities in a nondiscriminatory manner. RHV, in particular, supports: medical first response and emergency operations of local hospitals; Bay Area disaster planning and relief in response to fires, earthquakes, and other disasters; highly-competitive aviation degree programs at San Jose State University; other career paths not requiring 4-year degrees; green initiatives by hosting a solar farm built by San Jose-based SunPower; and efficient operation of San Jose International Airport (SJC) by serving as a reliever airport for air traffic.
We have historic examples of what is lost with an airport closure. Pain has been felt since the tragic 2003 closure of Meigs Field in Chicago, and re-opening of the airport is on mayoral candidate Willie Wilson’s agenda as a community-benefiting measure. Santa Monica Airport is somewhere in between the statuses of RHV and Meigs Field in terms of closure risk, with plans established to replace the airport with a recreational site.
Although the window is closing, we still have time to prevent a similar fate for RHV by contacting county supervisors, educating Santa Clara County residents about the cost of removal of the airport and the benefits it currently provides, and developing sustainable, win-win approaches to city planning.