Saturday, May 31, 2008
Redlands Municipal Airport becoming focal point for aviation, other activities in area
By MICHAEL PERRAULT
The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise
REDLANDS – Today’s grand opening of the Hangar 24 Craft Brewery is just one sign of the surge in activity at the 61-year-old Redlands Municipal Airport. Across the street, just west of the main terminal on Sessums Drive, workers are putting up about 30 new hangars. Redlands Aviation already has occupants for nearly three-fourths of them. Another 45 people are on a waiting list to rent hangars, said Todd Housley, airport manager for the past two years. The airport, which is home to Airwest Helicopters and High Performance Helicopters, has become a hub for helicopters used to fight area wildfires.
On Wednesdays, a group of octogenarian pilots who have formed a band show up with guitars and fiddles to practice.
Pilots in the Redlands Police Department’s air support unit swoop in and out in their Cessna, and aviation buffs show up for occasional weddings.
Pilot Ingrid Biglow, a Redlands Flying Club member, welcomes the hustle and bustle. She said she is glad to see the 8- to 17-year-old Young Eagles, who fly with the U.S. Experimental Aircraft Association.
“To me, the wave of the future is general aviation,” said Biglow, who landed a Piper Archer at the airport Friday and gassed it up. “Redlands Airport is important to me.”
In the Black
The flurry of activity combined with new financial strategies helped the airport turn a $25,000 profit last year.
That was welcome news after operating for a decade in the red, said Gary Van Dorst, director of Redlands’ Quality of Life Department, which oversees the airport, parks, building maintenance, streets and several other divisions.
Turning a profit has been a goal since airport founders Robert Kanaga and Austin Welch opened Redlands Flying Inn Airport in 1947. They started with a 3,500-foot runway, a maintenance shop and one hangar.
But profitability always has been a challenge.
Several years after Kanaga and Welch launched the airport, they sold it to the California Turkey Growers Association, which turned it into a turkey and chicken ranch.
City Bought It in 1962
The city purchased the property in 1962 and expanded the airport with a $20,000 loan from Lockheed Corp.
Since then growth has been slow but steady. Over the past decade, nearly $4 million in federal grants has helped pay for improvements to fencing, the runway, taxiway and apron and lighting.
Today, about 240 aircraft are based at the airport, including commuters who travel to Orange County and Los Angeles. As many as 82,000 recreational and business flights take off and touch down annually on the 4,570-foot asphalt runway.
The dozen businesses include Aero Tech Academy and MY Air, both offering flight training, aerobatic instructor Redlands Aerosports and maintenance provider Red Aero.
Annual operating costs for the city-owned and -operated airport are estimated at $360,488 in the 2008-09 budget.
One key to turning a profit has been market value ground-lease agreements, rather than below-market value as in previous years, Housley said.
For example, on Tuesday, the Redlands City Council likely will approve a new lease agreement with the Redlands Hangar Owners’ Association. The city expects to collect $10,000 more per year under the new terms, in line with fees at nearby airports.
The city has renegotiated other leases and acquired about 20 percent of the airport’s hangars. Airport officials have trimmed energy and other overhead costs and generated more revenue through airplane fuel sales and services.
Other Airport Closing
One factor spurring the growth has been the closing of Rialto Municipal Airport, a process that began last year. About 250 aircraft were based there.
“I was just over there (in Rialto),” Biglow said as she readied for takeoff in Redlands. “The caf? is closed; there is only transit traffic in and out.”
Only about 13 percent of pilots based at Rialto’s airport live in that city, said Rich Scanlan, Rialto’s director of aviation and solid waste management.
“People are looking for an alternative,” Housley said.
Creating a Niche
Consulting firm Coffman & Associates lists seven airports within 30 nautical miles in its most recent Redlands airport master plan. It includes Rialto, along with San Bernardino and Ontario international airports and Apple Valley, Cable, Chino and Corona municipal airports.
Housley said Redlands’ airport complements rather than competes with San Bernardino International, which recently approved a $9 million, 65,000-square-foot hangar for corporate jets. Larger planes can use its 10,000-foot runway and use instrument-approach procedures.
“Riverside Municipal Airport is probably the closest real competitor,” said Housley.
The Redlands airport caters to planes weighing no more than 12,500 pounds.
Some pilots said they prefer Redlands to avoid commercial airliners and stay clear of controlled air space.
The airport generates about $16 million in overall economic activity and provides 46 jobs, Coffman & Associates reported. About 20 visitors arrive daily and spend $1,170 and 2.6 days in Redlands, consultants said.
For 27-year-old pilot and entrepreneur Ben Cook, the airport offered a scenic location for his brewery and a 4,640-square-foot building for the fermenting and bottling equipment he purchased from the Monte Carlo Casino in Las Vegas. He hopes to attract locals who otherwise wouldn’t venture to the airport.
“A lot of people think aviation is out of reach,” Cook said. “It’s really not.”