(1) Who owns the airport?
San Carlos airport, KSQL, is owned by the County of San Mateo. The County Supervisors are the representatives of the County with whom we have contact about airport issues. Gretchen Kelly is the Airport Manager.
(2) Why can Surf Air operate a commercial airline out of a regional airport like San Carlos?
Short answer: because they can (legally). KSQL is a Regional Reliever Airport. “Reliever airports are designated by the FAA to relieve congestion at Commercial Services airports and to provide improved general aviation access to the overall community.” KSQL is sometimes referred to as a General Aviation airport to distinguish it from Commercial Service airports like SFO or SJC. GA airports do not have schedule service. There are no rules that prevent Surf from operating what we would call a “commercial airline” out of KSQL.
(3) Is Surf a commercial airline and should be using Commercial airports?
FAA defines “Commercial Service airports” as “Publicly owned airports that have at least 2,500 passenger boardings each calendar year and receive scheduled passenger service.” Surf Air seems to meet both of those criteria and should be using a Commercial Airport. However – they do not offer scheduled service in the view of the FAA. You cannot walk to the counter and purchase a ticket to a specified location at a certain time. That is FAA scheduled service. Surf uses the membership method, putting a layer between the customer and the ticket counter (or website).
More definitions…. What are the categories of airports? The FAA definitions:
Commercial service airports are publicly owned airports that have at least 2,500 passenger boardings each calendar year and receive scheduled passenger service.
General Aviation (GA) airports are public use airports that do not have scheduled service or have less than 2,500 annual passenger boardings.
KSQL is a General Aviation (GA) airport. California PUC code defines General Aviation as “general aviation aircraft are all aircraft other than air carrier aircraft and military aircraft.” Air carrier is any “aircraft operating pursuant to a federal certificate…including any pursuant to 49 USC 1371.” This covers charter operations. Since Surf is a charter airline, it is specifically excluded from the GA definition by California. There is no law saying they cannot fly into SQL, but the underlying element is that should not be (and this is something the County should control.)
Surf operates as a Part 135 commuter airline. This allows them to provide a scheduled service, including the high volume of flights they currently provide. They can also increase their service to even higher frequencies, and will probably do so as they take delivery of additional aircraft.
(4) What about the noise abatement policy at KSQL?
The airport has a voluntary noise abatement policy. Through the efforts of its Manager, Gretchen Wilson, the airport has been a good neighbor. They have educated their users and responded to noise complaints (prior to Surf’s arrival when complaint volume became unmanageable).
There are two basic problems with the policy. Firstly, the hours of operations suggested restrictions apply to touch and go operations, like flight schools that may depart and land several times as part of their instruction. A KSQL user could land a midnight or 4 a.m. and not be in violation. Secondly, the policy is voluntary. Most airport users want to be good neighbors, but Surf runs a business.
(5) Does the airport have any control over the aircraft using it?
KSQL is not a private airfield, it is open for public use which means pretty much any small aircraft can use it. As long as the County continues to accept Federal grants for the airport, it can be difficult to impose any restrictions or limits. There are some things the County can do. If they feel their constituents require relief, they will pursue it.
(6) Does the airport make money from Surf Air?
The following statements are from reliable sources but have not been verified. Please send us the data if you have it.
The cash that the airport generates from Surf is insignificant. Surf uses a private facility for boarding/de-planing so I believe the airport gets no money for that. If Surf buys fuel, that probably goes to the local company that operates the fuel trucks. Indirectly, all those services are probably paying a fee to the airport to operate their businesses at the airport, but again, if Surf went away, it would have minimal financial impact.
Local commentary (not from us): Commercial flights are a big part of the county economy, and therefore we all have to put up with it. This is a lie. SC airport may employ a few more people due to Surf Air and the other charter company – but this number is insignificant. This airport is revenue neutral for the county: the county owns it, but it does not subsidize it, and does not get any revenue from it. At least they will not reveal any numbers readily – which means that they are revenue neutral. The airport is self-sustained, and has been for years. The county allowed the airport to take grants from FAA (in order to keep the airport in good working order). The county can stop taking grants from FAA if this creates a problem for its residents, as an extreme measure, but they do not have to – there is plenty of room within the grant assurances act to reach a mutually suitable compromise.