Tracy Airport – Pilots Question Airport Maintenance and Fees

As the city initiates an increase in the rental fees for privately owned hangars at Tracy Municipal Airport, those who use the facility call it unfair because of the airport’s conditions.

Tracy_Airport_Pilot_Gary_Harding“The hangars are way overpriced,” said pilot Jose Suez, who rents a hangar from its original owner for $250 a month for his Cessna aircraft. “Look at Modesto and Stockton, they’re close to half the price. They are charging Livermore prices in Tracy without infrastructure that Livermore has … running water, bathrooms, decent (runway) pavement.”

The majority of the City Council last week approved an increase of 1.4 percent in the hangar fees, which goes into effect today, July 1. It’s the same increase approved by the council in 2010, based on the United States Consumer Price Index, which most pilots say forces them to pay between the low $200s and the low $300s per month.

Like a number of the pilots at their hangars Wednesday morning, June 29, Suez is upset about the conditions of the runway and taxiways.

Demonstrating the poor quality, he kicked the road gravel loose with his shoe just outside his hangar. He said those pea-sized jagged rocks kick onto his aircraft, causing extensive damage to the propellers and wearing down tires three times faster than “normal.”

“It doesn’t take an expert to see this is not right,” Suez said. “This is still a nice field. I don’t like the way the city has been neglecting it.”

Suez and pilot Gary Harding, who rents a small T-shaped hangar at a Tracy-resident discount of $217 per month, both agreed their tires needed replacement after fewer than 100 hours of flight time at the local airport. The average lifespan of a tire, they said, should be between 250 to 400 hours, and the difference is costly when tire prices range from $100 a pair to $200 each.

Harding, who has rented his Tracy hangar for about a year, said he has seen more and more damage on his Cessna since he moved to Tracy.

“People are real concerned about it,” Harding said, looking at the spatter of nicks on the face of his propeller. “A chip on the edge of a propeller has to be repaired immediately.”

Faced with a cost of hundreds to thousands of dollars to replace a propeller, Suez has put off replacement by shaving down the edge nicks to make it last longer. He said one nick was so deep, it looked like the prop had been hit with a machete.

“The asphalt is a substandard job,” Suez said. “I heard stories of people who no longer go to Tracy, because they can’t afford to have debris sucked into their engine.”

Officials of the Tracy Airport Association, which represents citizens involved with the airport, including pilots, say a paving project on Runway 30 and the taxiway area in July and August 2007 was inadequate, and the loose gravel used to fill cracks during the paving process has been coming loose since it was laid.

The funding for that paving project came from grants: 90 percent from the Federal Aviation Administration, 8 percent from the state and 2 percent from the city, according to city officials.

“Overall increase in hangar fees is unreasonable at a time when the level of service is low,” Tracy Airport Association President John Favor said. “The airport is vital. Many small businesses are supported by the airport. My own business depends on it to get to my clients.” (Editor’s Note: Tracy Airport Assocaition is a Chapter of CalPilots).

Association officials said that according to the airport deed, the city is responsible to maintain the airport and keep it in good and serviceable condition.

Dave Anderson, the vice president of Tracy Airport Association, said city officials want to close down the airport and move it near the former Holly Sugar plant north of town, but FAA officials oppose that plan.

Anderson said pilots feel their frustrations about airport conditions have fallen on deaf ears. He said the battle over the runway problem has been going on since the asphalt was laid down.

“It causes a sharp pit, and it causes stress in the aluminum to concentrate there,” Anderson said. “The propeller is no longer balanced, and the engine falls off, … the airplane falls out of the sky.”

Ken Soares, who checked out his rented T-hangar for the first time Wednesday morning, said he was disappointed with its conditions. He said he agreed to pay the $265 per month because he needed a place to store his hand-built RV9A.

“I’m happy to get a hangar,” Soares said, noting that the wait to get one at nearby Byron Airport is six years. “These are just cracker boxes.”

Soares said he also rents a hanger in Pasco, Wash., but for $10 more, he has a large hangar at the end of an isolated area with good lighting and no leaks. He said the condition of that space is so good, it can be used as a workshop, while he described his hangar in Tracy as just a few walls and a roof.

According to a city staff report, Tracy Municipal Airport charges an average of 4½ cents per square foot on the 24 privately owned hangars. City management analyst Ed Lovell told the council June 21 that other airports in the area are reporting between 10 cents and 38 cents per square foot for similar ground leases.

Airport users argued that the costs quoted by city staff are inaccurate, and the city should be looking at numbers for the Central Valley and not the Bay Area.

“We pay a bunch more and get a lot less,” Anderson said.

Trina Anderson, who is the secretary and treasurer of the Tracy Airport Association, said the group is on the verge of going to small-claims court to seek restitution for aircraft damage.

City airport coordinator Bruce Ludeman said officials are investigating both the cause and the solution to the pavement problem. He said an engineer was scheduled to stop by Wednesday afternoon to review the surface. He said officials are concerned, and they want to learn what happened and what they can do to fix it. Once they find that out, he said, the city can put together a plan.

“He will be telling us the underlying problem and what would be a solution,” Ludeman said.

On Feb. 28, a letter signed by Donald Haug, aviation safety officer for the California Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics, was sent to Rod Buchanan, director of parks and community services, the department that oversees airport operations.

In the letter, Haug addressed several problems following an inspection in January, which included comments on the runway conditions.

“We observed Runway 12/30 pavement and the connecting taxiways to west hangars experiencing progressive disintegration of the slurry seal layer installed in August 2007, which is producing pea gravel and small rock fragments,” he wrote. “Damage to aircraft propellers and engines may result from this condition and expose the airport to unnecessary liability. We strongly recommend the airport coordinate with the FAA to identify needed project funding to repair these areas in the near future.”

Buchanan said the city is constantly monitoring the state of the airport. He questioned any displeasure of those who rent the hangars, citing the airport’s 95 percent occupancy rate.

“The city is unaware of any specific damage,” he said. “Nobody has reported to the city, that we know of, of any specific damage.”

Buchanan said it is routine to have a pavement engineer evaluate the conditions. He said the city is, however, applying for a grant to put another pavement layer on the runway.