A recent plane crash at Reid-Hillview Airport is renewing calls for its closure, even though federal data shows the number of crashes at the East San Jose facility aren’t higher than other busy airports in the state.
An analysis by San José Spotlight found Reid-Hillview Airport, one of the busiest non-primary airports in California that logs 209,000 takeoffs and landings annually, has seen 11 plane crashes in the last decade—none of which resulted in deaths, according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data. Besides the most recent crash, only one other incident in 2017 resulted in serious injury in the last 10 years.
Non-primary airports like Reid-Hillview have limited commercial service, though RHV caters primarily to private planes. The facility is among the busiest non-primary airports in the state, NTSB data shows. Other busy non-primary airports in the state have seen more crashes, San José Spotlight found.
Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport in San Diego is the busiest non-primary airport in California with roughly 273,000 annual landings and takeoffs. It saw at least 14 plane crashes in the last decade, according to NTSB data.
Van Nuys Airport, located in a residential neighborhood and run by Los Angeles, has nearly 203,000 landings and takeoffs each year. The Southern California airport has recorded at least 18 crashes since 2012—four of which resulted in deaths.
Palo Alto Airport, a much smaller airport owned by Palo Alto, has seen seven crashes since 2012, according to the latest data. The airport reports 191,000 annual landings and takeoffs, Federal Aviation Administration data shows.
The 85-year-old county-owned Reid-Hillview Airport is surrounded by the Evergreen neighborhood in East San Jose. The airport, which sits on 180 acres, has been a point of contention in the community for decades. Advocates and elected officials have spent years pushing for the airport’s closure, calling it a social justice issue. Some want to rezone the land for much-needed affordable housing. Proponents of the airport, including pilots and local flight schools, said the facility is crucial to them and emergency operations.
The fight intensifies
The July 22 plane crash near the airport left the pilot seriously injured, Assistant Director for Santa Clara County Airports Ken Betts told a county commission last week. The plane lost power before landing on a utility pole behind a local home and damaging a nearby car. Betts said the federal government is investigating the crash. It may take up to two years before the cause is confirmed.
The crash did not hurt residents, Betts added. Still, the incident prompted more than 50 community members and advocates to rally last week to shutter Reid-Hillview Airport.
“This isn’t the first time there’s been a plane crash here,” Huascar Castro, associate director of housing and transportation policy for Working Partnerships USA, told San José Spotlight. Working Partnerships USA is part of a coalition pushing for the airport’s closure. “It really puts a lot of these families at risk.”
Aviation enthusiasts say the number of incidents at the airport have been blown out of proportion.
Walter Gyger, a board member of the Community and Airport Partnership for Safe Operation, said while the crash was a concern, it doesn’t mean the airport is unsafe. The group wants to keep the airport open.
“There’s always risk involved, even if you’re walking across the street,” Gyger, who runs a flight school at Reid-Hillview Airport, told San José Spotlight. “We obviously are very concerned about these things, and that’s why we train our pilots to avoid the situation.”
The fight to close the airport intensified last year after a county-funded study found children living near the airport have elevated blood lead levels. Last week, Supervisor Cindy Chavez testified in front of a congressional subcommittee about the impact of leaded airplane fuel in the area.
The percentage of children with high blood lead levels in the study is consistent with the state average, a San José Spotlight analysis found, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says any amount of lead in the body is unsafe, especially for children. A different study released in June, also commissioned by the county, found no dangerous lead levels in soil samples taken at the airport.
Regardless of the number of plane crashes, Castro said for years the community has wanted Reid-Hillview Airport shut down. He said the airport land could be better utilized in a way that is more beneficial to the community.
“The airport has multiple impacts on public health and overall general welfare of the surrounding community,” he said.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.