The Paso Robles Municipal Airport has an unusual visitor this month: a massive British Royal Air Force plane that's in town for training at Fort Hunter-Liggett.
On Monday, the RAF landed an A400 Airbus, a transport that's large enough to carry 116 fully-equipped troops, vehicles, helicopters and more, according to the British Royal Air Force website.
The British Royal Air Force wound up in Paso Robles because it needed a base of operations for training high-altitude paratroopers, Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin told the Tribune in an email.
"Paso Robles is geographically close to the training area at Fort Hunter-Liggett, has facilities that can accommodate the large A400 aircraft and enjoys favorable weather conditions most of the year," Martin said.
All of these features made it a good airport for the visiting troops.
Payloads are dropped from the A400 by paratroopers, who exit from the belly of the plane by parachute, according to the RAF.
Martin told The Tribune he believes this plane was just used to transport the troops, who will then do training using smaller aircraft at Hunter-Liggett.
Although this is the first visit by the British Royal Air Force to the Paso Robles Airport that Martin could recall, it may not be the last.
The City of Paso Robles is considering a one-year pilot program with the RAF to gauge impacts to the airport. The Airport Commission will be in charge of reviewing the possibilities.
Martin said he was told up to 80 troops could come to train here for several weeks at a time.
The City of Paso Robles is open to using the airport capabilities to host future international visitors, Martin said.
"The phone lines are open," he said.
The Paso Robles Airport Commission is also working on securing licensing through the Federal Aviation Administration to transform the municipal airport into a horizontal launch spaceport.
The timeline to have the spaceport license issued is June 2024, according to past Tribune reporting.