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On a wing and a prayer

Pilots waiting for years to house their airplanes out of the weather may get relief if the county airport manager can find a private investor to fund a hangar project turned down by the state.

In January, the Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics agreed to allow the airport to build 20 portable hangars near Ramp No. 1 using “alternative funding sources.”

“They’re not going to stop the project. They’re just not going to loan the money. So now it’s kind of good news, bad news,” airport manager Greg Marshall said Tuesday.



The OK comes a year after the California Department of Aviation rejected the proposal on the grounds the height of the hangars exceeded obstruction regulations.

Marshall requested another review, arguing an existing variance allows for the sloping topography and similar hangars in the area do not pose a safety risk. The state backed down after the Federal Aviation Administration approved the plan in October.




The original $540,000 plan first proposed two years ago would have built 20 portable hangars. Since the 1990s, a number of pilots have been waiting for an available hangar, but growth has been limited at the small airport.

“There’s not a lot of property available. It’s a long and narrow airport,” Marshall said.

Up to 35 local pilots are waiting to get into a hangar and another 12 from out of the county would like to station a plane here, Marshall said. Building more hangars will attract more business to the airport, Marshall said.

Turning to private development for the hangars would mean less revenue than the county had originally envisioned. Airport Commissioner Mike Kaul thinks the county should reconsider investing in the hangar project.

“It’s a matter of, do we want to share the revenue with developers or get all the money for ourselves?” Kaul said.

To build the hangars, the airport would lease a 30,000-square-foot area on the airport grounds for the construction, generating an estimated $14,000 a year for the county at the current lease rate of 4 cents per square foot.

A request for a proposal will go up for bid as early as May, Marshall said.

“I’m going to get as wide a distribution as possible,” Marshall said. He said he is keeping his options open and will consider any creative ideas from individuals, steel building manufacturers or a “group of guys.” Several groups currently own and rent out hangars on airport land, Marshall said.

Some longtime pilots questioned allowing wealthy developers to build the hangars for fear of exorbitant rental costs.

“Why not give the little guys who want to build a hangar a chance?” asked Robert Steuber, a retired pilot of 43 years.

“There have been people wanting to put port-a-ports up since the 1990s. They have been stymied by the county,” said Greg McKnight.

McKnight also wondered how successful the county would be in finding someone to invest in airport development when the industry is graying.

Allowing individuals to bring in their own hangars may lead to a hodge-podge effect that the county isn’t interested in, Marshall said.

“I think you would have a challenge of standardization,” because manufacturers build portable hangars in all shapes and colors, Marshall said. A group of 12 people who want to invest in a group of buildings will be considered, Marshall said.

“We’re going to be very open to ideas,” Marshall said.

In related matters, the Nevada County Airport Commission will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Eric W. Rood Administrative Center to discuss the airport’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

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To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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