Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/03/2011 06:10:17 PM PDT

For years, civic and business leaders have doggedly worked to convert San Bernardino International Airport into a promising commercial venture and a major passenger airport.

And many steadfastly believe it’s getting there.

In the last 10 years, the Inland Valley Development Agency, the joint-powers authority that oversees development around the airport, brought to the airport distribution centers for Mattel Inc., Kohls and Stater Bros.

And airport officials keep hinting that a major commercial airline is on the verge of coming to SBIA.

But even before the Sept. 21 FBI raid on the airport, in which agents came in search of evidence that airport officials are engaged in corruption, airport observers have floated alternatives to a commercial airport.

Soon after Norton Air Force Base closed in 1994, advocates of building a prison there began sounding off. And recently, San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry criticized the airport as an “airport to nowhere.”

But whether it’s the idea of a prison or something else, it doesn’t matter to the Federal Aviation Administration.

There must be a runway there, says the federal government.

Strings attached

That’s because airport operators who accept federal airport improvement grants agree to do certain things in exchange for federal money – and the San Bernardino International Airport Authority for years has accepted federal grant money to improve the airport.

There is an agreement called a grant assurance. In it, the authority agrees to keep the aiport open as an airport and to use the land for only aviation purposes.

Such “assurances” last for about 20 years, said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman.

What is an “aviation purpose”?

There’s a list, but it includes pilot training, crop dusting, aircraft rental, sales and storage and military flight operations.

Bottom line: San Bernardino’s stuck with at least a runway – kind of.

Could there be a mall, or some kind of an industrial park there?

“An airport may be granted authorization for the use of property for non-aeronautical purposes on an interim basis if there are no current or reasonably foreseeable aeronautical uses for the property,” Gregor said.

Vision stands

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