Commissioners delve into Chico airport finances

ChicoCHICO – While it’s willing to do the work, the Chico Airport Commission has made little progress pinpointing why the airport loses money every year, and it might not be an easy answer.

The commission has struggled to understand the airport budget and various funds that make up the Chico Municipal Airport.

“What’s significant,” city Finance Department accounting manager Frank Fields told the commission, “is that there’s nothing to cut.”

Fields explained the airport budget as commissioners see it doesn’t portray all airport expenses and revenue. Costs associated with some airport expenses – like the airport fire station – are displayed in other accounts, rather than the airport ones, although that will be changing.

Fields said the airport does not support itself, and won’t without extra effort. He said in each of the last three years, the airport has lost money from around $95,000 to $165,000.

“There’s no one item, one area that is losing money. It’s just the overall operations outpace the revenue,” Fields told the commission last week.

An ad hoc committee for the Airport Commission was formed to understand the budget better, and asked for in-depth reports.

Commissioners were concerned that at some point, the Chico City Council couldn’t afford to cover airport losses with General Fund money, and might consider something dramatic.

Airport revenue took a big hit when Aero Union moved to Sacramento. While it paid some of the empty building leases for a while, it ultimately stopped.

It’s hard to say if Chico could find a business to replace Aero Union and rent the buildings again, Fields noted.

“The airport needs to take a huge look to find new revenue,” Fields told the commission, complimenting the commission on its efforts to revitalize the airport.

Administrative Services Director Chris Constantin said the airport is an asset to Chico, but as far as its numbers are concerned, “The numbers alone can’t tell you a root factor that’s causing the situation.”

He noted litigation adds extra expense to the city as well.

The ad hoc committee came up with several suggestions that would focus on monitoring and understanding airport financial information more closely. Constantin said his office will work on keeping commissioners apprised monthly on finance items through emails, since the board meets quarterly.

Commissioner BT Chapman suggested other airports get funds from cell transmission towers and that Chico might investigate it.

“It’s descent revenue,” he told fellow commissioners, “but will it clear the deficit? No.”

Constantin noted the city gets revenue from one non-airport tower that amounts to $40,000 to $45,000 annually.

The airport generates other revenue through fuel sales, hangar space leases, and concessions, among others. Commissioners also hoped that more air passengers would use the airport because a portion of each ticket value goes to the airport.