Chico airport panel learns financial hole even deeper

ChicoCHICO – One of the city of Chico’s biggest financial pits is the Municipal – Airport, and its governing body of appointed board members has been wrestling with the issue. The news got worse last week, when the Chico Airport Commission found other debts related to the airport were actually tucked into non-airport funds, including fire service, litigation and remediation costs.

The airport deficit is about $1 million annually, and does not include those related costs.

Saying airport operations “are cut to the bone” already, a committee reported raising revenues was the only way to bail the airport out.

Raising lease amounts, however, didn’t seem to be popular among commissioners, although there wasn’t agreement on alternatives.

Commissioners wanted to look at passenger numbers, pointing out the costs of flying out of Sacramento versus leaving from Chico might be a surprise to passengers when items like car wear and lost time were considered.

International commerce was another area to investigate, and with Beale AFB so close, perhaps more could be done with that relationship.

Already the city gets fees for touch-and-go landing training by Beale-based aircraft.

“Nothing’s off the table,” noted member Thomas Nolan-Gosling.

The commission is also working on a “revitalization plan” for the airport through another committee, hoping other financial solutions would be uncovered there, and suggested the business community might be willing to help

Assistant City Manager Mark Orme said airports usually don’t run a deficit, and airport assistant Debbie Collins noted Chico’s was self-sustaining at one time. Orme suggested hiring a professional to reverse its direction might make sense.

At the commission’s meeting Jan. 28, city finance department staff will be answering questions about the budget.

In other commission action, the Airport Commission gave the go-ahead to a small business interested in helicopter instruction at the airport.

Norcal Aviators owner Dan Dawson hopes to establish a helicopter school, but old airport guidelines required resources like an office, landline telephone and restrooms for any business there.

Dawson asked the Airport Commission to waive those regulations for his business, which they did unanimously.

However, a similar issue came up in 2009, when a business called Dimension 3 wanted to settle at the airport and the commission made it adhere to the requirements.

Dimension 3 appealed the commission’s decision to the council, which overruled it.

Airport assistant Debbie Collins noted only the actual flying – one on one – would occur at the airport.