Viewpoints: New master plan would preserve Mather Airport's future

Rancho Cordova’s proud heritage as a military town, with “space race” jobs at Mather Air Force Base and Aerojet, drew residents in the 1950s, as well as to El Dorado Hills and surrounding communities in the 1960s. It’s the heritage that is celebrated each year at the internationally famous California Capital Airshow.

The base opened in 1918; the thundering roar of B-52 and KC-135 takeoffs carried the sound of freedom around the world. Sadly, Mather was the region’s first base-closing casualty, in 1993. Only two years later, we celebrated Mather’s reopening to fulfill the master plan written by 125 regional leaders who understood the value of this economic asset. Its 11,301-foot runway joined an elite handful of 40 emergency landing sites worldwide for the space shuttle. Boeing uses the runway’s equally unique weight-bearing capabilities to test heavy aircraft, including the 787 Dreamliner.

Mather hosts daily commuter jets vital to local corporations, and by accepting cargo flights, it increases Sacramento International Airport’s passenger capacity.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors should ensure Mather’s future by voting Tuesday to approve the master plan for its expansion and certify its environmental impact report.

Citizen complaints should always be taken seriously, and the ones about Mather have been. Landing patterns and the approach path for Mather have been modified by the FAA. In January, February and March of this year, there were 23, 21 and 31 noise complaints, respectively, that came from two, seven and seven callers in Folsom, El Dorado Hills, Fair Oaks and Auburn.

This economic asset cannot, and should not, be ignored.

Fourteen years ago, planners realized that Fresno and Tulare agricultural products could get to market quicker from Mather Airport than from their current airport in Oakland. In agriculture, distance equals time, and time equals money.

Texas is an example of a state that takes full advantage of its economic assets, investing in them when necessary to make them even more marketable. When Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio closed, it became a very successful global port. A Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce study mission toured it in 2008.

At the New Cities Summit prior to the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Dallas in June, the CEO of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport told the fascinating story of being invited earlier this spring to make a presentation to a room full of foreign business leaders. He was not allowed to know who they were, nor ask questions. He made his presentation and left. Shortly after, Toyota announced it was moving its U.S. headquarters from Southern California to Plano, just outside Dallas. DFW was a major reason.

Texas is successful in attracting major corporations because it invests in infrastructure and support facilities necessary to make its cities attractive. At DFW, ease of access is critical; regional light rail opens to the airport this fall. It still has 6,000 acres of land that can be developed, and a large new logistics center on-site. DFW officials work with customs and immigration to ensure that foreign trade and investment are welcomed, albeit in a prudent and safe manner.

In the Sacramento region, the Next Economy effort is working to diversify the employment base, add jobs and strengthen our financial base. In Rancho Cordova, the city and the chamber of commerce continue to work with our partners at Sacramento County in support of Mather Airport’s unique and vital economic assets.

Let’s make ourselves truly competitive for opportunities such as the Tesla battery plant. Let’s take the stewardship of infrastructure such as Mather Airport seriously. Let’s support the region’s entrepreneurialism and join the global movement to air hubs. Let’s not make a bad decision to curtail our economic potential and add further constraints to our business community and employers. Instead, let’s encourage the opportunities for Mather Airport to soar to new heights.