Friday, November 24, 2006
Airport ‘goes international’
By Malia Spencer
The Lompoc (CA) Record
Santa Maria’s local airport is about to go international. After months of work, the new U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility at Santa Maria Public Airport is finally set to open Dec. 1. This week, federal officials toured and inspected the roughly 2,000-square-foot facility, which used to be a general aviation terminal. Bringing U.S. Customs to the airport is part of the district’s push to persuade an international aircraft manufacturer to set up operations at the airport and also to make SMX attractive to corporate business travelers as an alternate point of entry into the country.
The district has spent more than $150,000 remodeling the building to bring it up to federal standards. The cost of the customs agent – about $149,000 the first year and roughly $120,000 in subsequent years – is also being covered by the district.
“We will be a user fee landing rights airport,” said General Manager Gary Rice, meaning that users of the service will pay for the service.
Along with the new service, Rice has even suggested a name change – to Santa Maria International Airport.
Those wanting to clear customs in Santa Maria will have to make a reservation with the customs agent and pay a fee. If service is needed after hours, then an overtime charge is paid, Rice said.
So far, regular business hours are slated from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
An initial fee schedule for customs use was adopted by the airport board of directors Monday, but district staff noted it may change as the program gets underway.
Staff has assured the directors that Santa Maria’s prices are competitive and in line with other airports of similar size.
With the arrival of the customs agent, airport officials are also looking to activate the district’s Foreign Trade Zone.
Goods brought from foreign countries into a designated Foreign Trade Zone are treated as if they never left the country of origin. A tariff or duty is not paid on that product until it is exported out of the zone.
In addition to customs, the Foreign Trade Zone designation also makes the airport attractive to large aircraft manufacturers.
Although, Rice noted, no manufacturer has indicated an intent to locate in Santa Maria.
“We keep the potential there,” Rice said, with various upgrades of airport services.
The zone could be activated as early as January, Rice said.
Customs will make Santa Maria Public Airport available to a new niche market, said Ted Eckert, president of the airport board of directors.
“There is a strong desire on the part of many customs facility users to have a place to get quick, efficient service at reasonable rates,” Eckert said. “And we are expecting we should do an outstanding job to fill that niche.”
To advertise the airport’s new capability, Rice says, officials are planning focused advertising to groups and people who coordinate corporate flights, with the help of the airport’s fixed-base operators. Also, Customs will be added to services listed in Federal Aviation Administration information.
Jim Kunkle, owner of Central Coast Jet Center at the airport, said he has already prepared a press release for aviation publications about Customs opening at SMX.
“There are a lot of people that are very, very interested in it,” Kunkle said.