No fly zone

Santa Cruz island airstrip remains closed despite years of lobbying

By Chris O'Neal 01/02/2014

Getting in and out of Santa Cruz Island for most people requires a trip on a boat across a great stretch of the Pacific, but up until the mid 1990s, there were other, faster options.

Channel Islands Aviation (CIA), the only private air service contracted to run operations in and out of the Channel Islands, ran round trip flights from Camarillo to the airstrip located on the east side of Santa Cruz Island beginning in 1975, bringing park service administration and rangers to and from the island. In 1986, the airline opened up its services to the public and began bringing day-trip visitors as well. In the mid 1990s, the Channel Islands National Park Service (CINPS) shut the strip located adjacent to Smuggler’s Ranch down, putting it out of service.

In Nov. 2013, however, Channel Islands Aviation owner Mark Oberman believed that this would change.

“Nobody from the park can really remember why it was shut down,” said Oberman. “It seemed like at the time it was a very arbitrary decision.”

In 2001, the CINPS began working on a general master plan (GMP) that would indicate how the Channel Islands would be operated over the following 40 years. Oberman believed that as part of the GMP, the east Santa Cruz airstrip would be either reopened or directed as to how operations would continue, but in November, 2013, when the GMP was released, no plan to reopen the airstrip was included.

The CIA continues to run operations to and from Santa Rosa Island, a 25-minute flight, for camping, surfing or day trips, and has a contract with the CINPS as a concessionaire. Before closure, a trip from Camarillo to the east Santa Cruz Island airstrip took roughly 15 minutes.

For years, Channel Island Aviation lobbied the CINPS in hopes of being included in the GMP. After the GMP was released and the airstrip was not included, Oberman and Channel Islands Aviation began a public outreach campaign in hopes of influencing the NPS to reconsider the airstrip’s closure.

Since 2011, the CIA has taken roughly 2000 round-trip visitors to Santa Rosa Island and in an email campaign asked their patrons to write or call the CINPS to persuade the CINPS into reopening Santa Cruz Island to air travel. Oberman sites a dislike of transportation by boat as reason enough to reopen the strip.

“Our main trust was to give the public an option by airplane in case they get sea sick,” said Oberman. “They turned us down in 2010, indicating that we would have to wait for the GMP to come out. I was at one point told that it was actually definitely going to be a part of the GMP.”

Comments regarding the reopening of the airstrip must be submitted before Jan. 9, after which the CINPS has the ability to reconsider an inclusion in the GMP.

The Channel Islands National Parks Services could not be reached for comment before press time.


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