Porterville Municipal Airport.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Airport can be a boon, officials say
By aaron Burgin, The Porterville Recorder

A 727 commercial aircraft sails overhead, deafening the horizon as it makes its final approach to Porterville Municipal Airport. A dozen of the world’s best golfers step off the flight, and are shuttled off to the Porterville Hilton Hotel (insert Ramada, Hyatt, or any other five-star worthy name here), where they’ll stay for the Porterville Classic, a Professional Golfer’s Association Tour Qualifying School (Q-School for golf enthusiasts) event. Behind them, some of the Las Vegas’ high-rollers hop on a newly renovated Eagle Mountain Casino bus on their way to play the slots.

Just a stone’s throw away, the San Francisco 49ers prepare for the upcoming season at their state-of-the-art practice facility.

And the industrial businesses that currently call the airport home have multiplied, and are now home to hundreds of new jobs for the community.

Welcome to Porterville Airport 2030, where recreation and industry seamlessly meet, and the 90,000-population city is now a destination.

“It absolutely can happen,” Porterville Fire Department Fire Chief Frank Guyton said Monday. “The area surrounding the airport is ready.”

The key to making the vision a reality?

Extending the airport’s 6,000-foot runway, which will happen in as early as five years, Guyton said.

Currently, Porterville’s 5,908-foot runway is the fourth largest in the Valley, behind Meadows Airport in Bakersfield, Visalia Municipal Airport, and Fresno-Yosemite International Airport.

With a 1,000-foot extension – primarily done to accommodate the increasing size of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection airtankers that stage aerial attacks – the city could attract a small commuter airliner, and increased interest from national corporations, as was the case with Wal-Mart and Target, Guyton said.

“Larger industries wouldn’t have come to town,” Guyton said. “And as we get bigger, we will be looking at making the airport as a hub as the Los Angeles corridor gets too busy.”

Approximately 51,200 flights originate and descend on the airport annually, according to Federal Aviation Administration statistics, including 26,600 that originate from other airports and 1,600 government flights.

Currently the airport, which once was a World War II flight training airstrip, already generates major dollars to Porterville’s economy – to the tune of $48.4 million dollars, according to an economic impact report released in 2004.

The report breaks down the revenue generated by businesses located at the airport and that use airport infrastructure, and from individuals who fly into town from other locations, said airport services coordinator Jim McDonald.

“People don’t realize how important the airport has been to the city in terms of revenue generating,” McDonald said. “It definitely has the potential to grow and to become a destination point.”

Talks of an 18-hole golf course and other contemporary recreational facilities and a five-star hotel have many city officials excited with the prospects of a “recreational destination” anchored by the airport.

City Parks and Leisure Services Director Jim Perrine, who would be integral in bringing those recreational powerhouses to the city, said while “anything is possible,” the city would need to prioritize the recreation components.

“Something like that would take broad-based support,” Perrine said Monday. “We need to narrow the focus, and pick which one we want to go for first, whether it be the golf course, or soccer facilities, because when you have a variety of interests vying for the space, nothing will get done.”

Hurdles that also stand in the way of plans at the airport include finding space outside of the airport’s flight path, getting ample water out to the airport and integrating the recreation into the city’s water treatment/farming operation that occurs just adjacent to the airport.

“That would be taken care with the golf course,” Guyton said. “Most golf courses nowadays use treated water anyway, so this would fill a need for the city to get rid of it’s wastewater.”

These lofty goals, Guyton and McDonald said, start with the city’s 2030 general plan update.

“The GPU is crucial, because the area out near the airport is set for a booming, there just needs to be direction,” Guyton said.

An old saying about airports summarizes the need for development best, Guyton said.

“A mile of road will get you a mile out of town,” he said. “A mile of runway will get you the world.”

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