The A.J. Eisenberg Airport in Oak Harbor. (Karina Andrew / Whidbey News-Times)

The A.J. Eisenberg Airport in Oak Harbor. (Karina Andrew / Whidbey News-Times)

Local pilot plans to buy Whidbey Island airport

Robert DeLaurentis, known as the “Zen Pilot,” submitted a letter of intent to purchase the A.J. Eisenberg Airport.

OAK HARBOR — A private citizen has entered the running for ownership of the A.J. Eisenberg Airport south of Oak Harbor.

North Whidbey resident Robert DeLaurentis, a Navy veteran and global peace advocate known as the “Zen Pilot,” told the Whidbey News-Times that he submitted a letter of intent to purchase the airport, a precursor to a formal offer. Last month, Island County commissioners instructed county staff to negotiate for the purchase of the airport with the intent of immediately turning over ownership to the Port of Coupeville, which would handle all airport management and operations.

Local pilots who operate out of the Eisenberg Airport have long hoped public ownership could revivify the airport, which has declined steadily for the past two decades. DeLaurentis, however, thinks new private ownership would come with some notable benefits for the airport and the community.

For one thing, a private citizen can work faster than a government entity, DeLaurentis said. One important task that needs to be completed at the airport, he said, is to repave and widen the runway. For a governmental body, completing the studies and acquiring the funding necessary for this construction could take years. DeLaurentis said if his purchase goes through, he will begin work on the runway the day after the deal closes.

The rules and restrictions about how government entities can obtain and spend money can also be tricky to navigate, he added, while he already has money on hand to purchase and fix up the airport and is ready to “rock and roll.”

The airport is in desperate need of a little love, DeLaurentis said. Besides revamping the runway, he said if he purchases the airport, his immediate plans also include replacing the old fuel tanks and restoring the hangars.

Looking farther ahead, he envisions a larger operation that might include an airport restaurant, a flight school, an aviation museum, more rental hangars and a professional shuttle service to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“Airports are usually a place where people gather in the community, and I don’t know that that’s happening out there now,” he said.

Mark Varljen, a Whidbey-based general aviation advocate, said that while he’s thrilled and impressed that a private individual would be willing to step up and take on the challenge of fixing up the airport, he still feels public ownership is in the best interest of the community and is most likely to help the airport achieve its full potential.

“A private owner is better than no owner, assuming it remains in public use,” he said, but “the amount of private investment to make it fully functional isn’t realistic to expect.”

A public entity such as the Port of Coupeville would have more access to grants and other funding sources than a private individual, Varljen said. Public ownership could also facilitate the airport becoming connected to the larger national transportation network.

DeLaurentis moved to Whidbey Island from San Diego last year. A pilot of 11 years, DeLaurentis became the first pilot to fly solo around the world in a Piper Malibu Mirage in 2015.

In 2020, he completed another global flight that took him through the North and South Poles and more than 20 countries on a mission to promote world peace. He stopped in countries in South America, Africa, Europe and Asia to talk to citizens about what it means to be a citizen of the world — “Citizen of the World” was also the name of the plane he flew on that expedition.

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A few weeks before what could be her final professional UFC fight, Miranda Granger grimaces as she pushes a 45-pound plate up her driveway on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Her daughter Austin, age 11 months, is strapped to her back. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Daily Herald staff wins 5 honors at annual journalism competition

The Herald got one first-place win and four runner-up spots in SPJ’s Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest.

Panelists from different areas of mental health care speak at the Herald Forum about mental health care on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At panel, mental health experts brainstorm answers to staff shortages

Workforce shortages, insurance coverage and crisis response were in focus at the Snohomish forum hosted by The Daily Herald.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Report of downed hot air balloon turns up farmer’s tarp near Snohomish

Two 911 callers believed they saw a hot air balloon crash, leading to a major search-and-rescue response. It was a false alarm.

People gather for a color throw at Stanwood and Camano’s first-ever Pride celebration on Saturday, June 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘We’ve at least come a little ways’: Snohomish to host first Pride event

A 10 a.m. parade on First Street will be followed by a pop-up market with 60 vendors, a downtown wine walk, queer cabaret and more.

The site of a former 76 gas station and a handful of century old buildings will be the location for new apartments buildings at the corner of Pacific and Rucker on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Old gas station demolished for apartments in downtown Everett

A 200-unit apartment complex between three and seven stories tall is proposed at Pacific and Rucker avenues.

Kamiak High School is pictured Friday, July 8, 2022, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Kamiak football coach fired amid sexual misconduct investigation

Police believe Julian Willis, 34, sexually abused the student in portable classrooms on Kamiak High School’s campus.

Police: Marysville man fist-bumped cop, exposing tattoos of wanted robber

The suspect told police he robbed three stores to pay off a drug debt. He’d just been released from federal prison for another armed robbery.

People begin marching down First Street with a giant balloon “PRIDE” during Snohomish’s inaugural Pride celebration on Saturday, June 3, 2023, in downtown Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
GALLERY: Snohomish hosts first official Pride celebration

Scenes from the parade and other events celebrating LGBTQIA culture and people in downtown Snohomish.

Cat killed, 9 people displaced after duplex fire in Everett

None of the people were injured in the fire reported around 1:15 a.m. in the 11500 block of Meridian Avenue S.

Most Read