Rolle Air Field grant may be cancelled
Rolle Air Field, located about 11 miles southwest of Yuma, is seen as a “critical component” to the future growth of Yuma International Airport and its efforts to serve the nation's defense industry.
That's why a notice that the airport might not receive an anticipated grant from the Arizona Department of Transportation to develop a master plan for Rolle and that the air field could be removed from the Arizona five-year plan for future grant consideration came as a shock.
The potential cancellation of ADOT funding for Rolle came about because of a ruling by the attorney general that the arrangement the Yuma County Airport Authority has for use of the air field was insufficient, said Craig Williams, airport manager. He explained that since 1985 the airport has had a property contract rather than a lease with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the 640-acre field.
“That was interpreted that we don't have a ‘property interest' ... we have no property ownership,” Williams said.
As it turned out, the timing was in the airport's favor. The next day, the State Transportation Board met in Yuma.
When they learned how important Rolle is to the airport's growth, the board was supportive and sought a compromise, he said.
Williams has since received a letter from ADOT stating that the airport will get the grant once the estimates and scope of the master plan are revised to include identification of options to acquire the necessary “interest in the land.”
Over the last 15 years, the airport has received a variety of grants to upgrade Rolle, including most recently to pave the runway and construct a hangar. With the newest grant, the airport had sought $175,000 to develop a master plan for Rolle that could be used as a supporting document for future funding applications as development of the air field moves forward.
“We weren't buying property or building something,” Williams said. “It was a planning grant.”
Rolle is seen as critical to the airport's support of the military and for the community, he said, noting that development of the air field will create jobs, boost economic development and help make Yuma a center for advancement of aerospace technology.
Williams explained that Yuma's airport is evolving to continue to meet the changing needs of its customers and its military neighbors at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Yuma Proving Ground, as well as the nation's space program.
The airport has done that by adopting more stringent security measures, upgrading communication capabilities airport-wide, building the new complex used by Customs and Border Protection, making hangars available to customers such as Boeing and NASA for their testing programs, and by developing the Defense Contractors Complex for use by the military's contractors.
And the airport is a partner in an effort to have this region selected as one of six centers around the nation for the testing of unmanned aircraft systems. If the region is selected, the unmanned aerial system would have two customers: the FAA, to gather data on how to safely integrate the unmanned aircraft into the national airspace, and unmanned aircraft developers, who will have their own test requirements.
The potential UAS test sites here include the already established ranges at YPG, the Barry M. Goldwater Aerial Gunnery Range and Rolle Field. The value of Rolle Field is that it offers a low-cost field for medium-risk flights as testing moves beyond restricted airspace but still offers access to the region's other resources, Williams explained.
“It gives us the ability to give developers a menu,” he said. “We would be able to tailor services to their needs. It would complement YPG.”