Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Paso Robles, Calif., airport seeks more private pilots, charter flights
The San Luis Obispo (CA) Tribune
With no plans in the immediate future for commercial airline service to Paso Robles, officials are working to attract more private and charter pilots to the Paso Robles Municipal Airport. One marketing opportunity, they say, is a 122-passenger commercial aircraft that will land in Paso Robles in October. Casino Express Airlines, based in Elko, Nev., will operate a tour from Paso Robles to the northeastern Nevada town, leaving Oct. 22.
This will be the third time the company has made the trip, according to Carma Porter, who does national advertising for Casino Express. Each flight has been 70 percent to 75 percent full.
“Of course, they’re here to gamble,” said Porter of the tour’s intent. The airline’s parent company, McClaskey Enterprises, owns five hotels in Elko.
The Paso Robles Visitors and Conference Bureau has begun looking at ways to market Paso to Elko residents, said Chris Taranto, director. Casino Express is also offering service from Elko to Paso Robles the same weekend.
“We’re trying to familiarize ourselves with the market of Elko and devise the best way to market to them,” Taranto said. “But once we do, we’ll do it.” One tour could fill 50 of the city’s 748 hotel rooms and provide customers to area restaurants, he said.
The bureau is also working on a niche marketing plan to encourage private pilots to come to Paso Robles — even if it’s just for lunch at the terminal’s first restaurant, Matthew’s At the Airport, which opened in January.
The city had been trying to lease that space since October 2001, and the City Council rejected a proposal to double the eatery space in 2002. The new terminal building opened in 2002.
“I think that the airport is a little gem waiting to be taken advantage of,” Taranto said.
Indeed, Paso officials have been trying for several years to give the airport a boost. Four years ago, the City Council approved a 10-year lease with North American Jet Charter — a private charter service owned by developer David Weyrich — hoping to attract needed business to the airport.
At the time, critics of the controversial deal, which offered Weyrich free rent for seven years and reimbursement of up to $475,000 for improvements to existing airport buildings the company would use, said it would discourage other business operators from coming there.
City Manager Jim App said the deal with North American helped the city to reacquire some underutilized properties and provides an alternative means of compensating the city through property taxes paid on four jet aircraft stationed at the airport.
It has also demonstrated that the airport is a viable place for aviation, he said. The city’s goal is to one day provide regional service.
“There’s no marked expansion of aviation business as yet,” he said. “But that is still out in our future.” Right now, there are about 195 aircraft housed in the airport’s 150 hangars, said Airport Services Manager Roger Oxborrow.
He estimates there are about 87 takeoffs or landings each day. But that is highly variable, with some days having as many as 200 or 300, he said. Because the airport does not have a tower, there is no official count of comings and goings.
Traffic, Oxborrow said, hasn’t increased much over the past few years. About 57 percent of the traffic is from local private aircraft.
Without a commercial carrier, the city is using the facility to draw in other types of tourists and business people. Making an easy landing at an attractive terminal is a good first impression for those looking to spend money in Paso Robles, officials say.
In 2002, a consultant told city officials and residents that commercial air service in Paso wasn’t likely and the city should focus on private aviation.
Toward that end, the city is trying to get other charter services started to Laughlin, Nev., and Las Vegas.
Of the airport’s 1,300 acres, about 800 acres are farmed. More than 30 businesses have facilities, employing 700 people in all, at the airport. The facility’s annual $350,000 operating budget comes from lease and farming fees.
In general, city tax dollars are only used to repay the bond for the $3.2 million terminal. It was part of Paso’s $38 million Measure D bond in 1998.
The trip to Elko leaves Paso Robles on Oct. 22 and returns Oct. 24. Prices range from $96 to $116 per person and include round-trip airfare, two nights of hotel (based on double occupancy), transportation from the airport to town and taxes.
Similar trips are offered out of Santa Maria and about 120 other cities around the nation. For information, call 1-800-258-8800.