Airport plans amenities to raise funds
A sushi bar, a courtesy car and new hangars all are being suggested as ventures that could make western Nevada County’s only public airport more profitable.
The Nevada County Airport Business Plan, approved by Nevada County supervisors last week, outlined challenges and vulnerabilities facing the small airport. It also suggested strategies to increase the number of permanent and visiting aircraft by improving infrastructure and services.
It’s going to take a balancing act of new business ventures, fee increases and revenue adjustments to offset future financial losses to the airport, Manager Greg Marshall said Wednesday.
Most of the airport’s revenue comes from rental fees, taxes, landing fees paid by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and fuel sales. The airport gets some support from state timber yields and local hotel and motel taxes.
It also gets hundreds of thousands of dollars – in varying amounts from year to year – from federal aviation grants and California matching grants.
Nevada County no longer supports the airport out of the general fund, dropping support from nearly $195,000 in 2003-04 to zero this year, the business plan said.
This year, the airport cleared nearly $7,000 in revenue, with only minor increases in fees to airport users. The profit is due to a large federal grant that covered capital improvements this year, Marshall said.
But a change in state funding policies is shifting more of the burden of capital improvement projects onto airports. At the same time, a project planned for next year costing $1.5 million will require the airport to come up with $40,000 in matching money. Marshall said that will come from budget reserves.
The five-year capital improvement program started in 2006 – including improving ramps, building a new ramp, building a runway-safety area and buying land to expand service to Calfire planes – is expected to cost more than $6 million.
Even with fee increases, next year’s operating budget is expected to go $27,000 into the red, the report said.
Despite the red numbers, next year’s budget also calls for about $10,000 in increases for salaries and benefits.
The airport has 2.6 full-time staff, including Marshall, who serves as the administrator for the airport; his assistant, a day-to-day operations person and fueler; and a part-time accountant.
Marshall said the increases reflect the rising cost of living and the county’s policy of accruing future retiree health benefits.
“We always look at our costs. We’re down to the law of small numbers. You really can’t cut anymore,” Marshall said.
The airport has 102 hangars and a waiting list of 46 people who need one for their airplanes.
To boost earnings, Marshall said, the airport is trying to take out a loan for 18 portable hangars. It also will raise fees for current tenants.
Most pilots, Marshall said, are middle-class county residents who love to fly small planes like Cessnas, Pipers and homebuilts. They want affordable porta-ports.
A handful of people commute by plane into the Bay Area. About 5 percent of users pay top dollar for executive hangars and fly craft such as jets and restored war birds, Marshall said. The remainder of users are firefighting units from Calfire and law enforcement.
Permanent hangars with electricity run upwards of $1,250 a month to rent. If the new hangars are installed, they will cost pilots about $300 per month, a price tag pilot Greg Goodknight says is too high for “chicken coops.”
Goodknight said he was on the waiting list for a hangar for seven years. He blames the lack of cover for his aircraft for extreme heat damage to the plane’s engine that caused it to crash last summer.
“They’re trying to balance the books on the backs of people who didn’t buy a hangar five years ago,” Goodknight said.
People coming into the airport rent vehicles into town from local rental companies. But the cars are not available on Sundays when many airport users fly in, said Sandy Mills, co-owner of flight school Alpine Aviation Inc.
Marshall would like to offer visiting pilots a courtesy car for short trips into town for a sandwich – making the airport more attractive to visitors who would spend money on other services.
So far no developers have been biting at Marshall’s restaurant idea; variations on the theme have been floated for years. But Supervisor John Spencer voiced support of the county building a sushi bar on the property at last week’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting.
“I think it would be a wonderful investment,” Spencer said.
Marshall said it’s not uncommon for recreational fliers to hop in a plane and fly somewhere for a “$100 burger.” Loma Rica Business Park, which employs 800 people, also would benefit, Marshall said.
“Airport restaurants for some reason just seem to draw people in,” said Captain Lisa Shipman, who flew Northstar developer Sandy Sanderson from Oregon in a private company jet on business.
Shipman said she and her co-pilot/husband borrowed Marshall’s vehicle to drive into Grass Valley for lunch.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4230.
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