Riverside Municipal Airport

riversideoverheadRIVERSIDE: Airport manager stretching his wings Kim Ellis announces plans to expand Riverside Municipal Airport, increase activity on the runway.

When he was 14, Kim Ellis went behind his parents’ backs and spent the $20 he had in his pocket for a helicopter ride at the Iowa State Fair.

He’s been hooked on flying ever since.

“There was a freedom to it . just being up and being able to see everything,” he said.

Now 59 and living in Moreno Valley, Ellis has spent more than a quarter of a century in the aviation industry, the bulk of it in management at Ontario International Airport. Ellis retired from his job at Los Angeles World Airports on June 27. Three days later, he took the helm as manager of Riverside Municipal Airport. His salary is $100,000 per year.

Ellis holds the position previously occupied by Mark Ripley, who retired in April.

“This airport has potential,” Ellis said recently from his second-floor office overlooking the runaway. “One of the reasons I was brought in was to help the airport move to its next level.”

His goal is to develop the city-owned and -operated airport in modest steps. That includes working with two tenants who want to expand by adding ramp space and hangars on the west end. The project tentatively calls for 20 to 40 hangars to be built.

An additional nine hangars are moving to Riverside from the soon-to-be-closed Rialto Municipal Airport. The Riverside airport currently has 160 hangars, all of them occupied. A dozen people are on a waiting list for hangar space, he said.

To accommodate future development on the east side, the airport is working with Southern California Gas Company to move a pipeline at the end of the runway. Other projects include minor pavement repairs phased in over several years, he said.

“We’re not just going to do this explosive growth,” Ellis said. “They’re not going to see Southwest in here. They’re not going to see United in here. That’s not the type of growth we’re talking about. It will be a growth they’re able to live with.”

Flight activity at the airport has picked up in recent years as the economy has rebounded, he said. The airport expects 100,000 takeoffs or landings this year, nearly double a 10-year low of 53,677 operations in 2007.

Ellis said he’s working with other city departments to develop a marketing plan to encourage general aviation fliers and corporate jet owners to stop in Riverside instead of surrounding airports. The Riverside airport provided an estimated $44.8 million economic benefit to the local economy in 2008, the most recent year the city has figures.

“My objective is to get all those pilots who are flying past us to stop here, buy some gas, spend the night in a local hotel, visit the Mission Inn (and) visit the theaters,” he said.

Tenants say they are hopeful Ellis will continue the success provided by Ripley.

“The airport has good momentum, and it’s moving in the right direction,” said Chad Davies, owner of Riverside Air Service, a fixed-base operator under contract with the city to provide fueling and maintenance services. The business also has hangar and tie-down space for general aviation pilots and corporate fliers.

Davies said he has expansion plans that include two executive-style hangars for corporate jets to be built in coming months. A range of smaller hangars for private planes and larger hangars for aviation businesses also will be built next year, he said.

Another tenant, Waypoint Aviation Maintenance, has quadrupled its sales of aircraft parts and supplies since moving to the airport three years ago, said Richard Matano, the company’s director of maintenance.

In the next few years, the company plans to demolish its facility and construct a building about twice as large as the current 9,000-square-foot structure, he said.

“The economy of the airport is growing,” Matano said. “The use of the airport is picking up. The easiest thing (Ellis) can do is don’t increase any current leases or add additional regulations.”