Thursday, June 15, 2006
Flight enthusiasts balk at Tracy airport study
By Rick Brewer
The Stockton (CA) Record
TRACY – A report on the success and viability of Tracy Municipal Airport is being met with resistance among some local flying enthusiasts. They say a nationwide consulting firm miscalculated several factors in its analysis of the airstrip at 5749 S. Tracy Blvd. The Boyd Group, an aviation specialty company based in Evergreen, Colo., released its study of the Tracy Airport on June 5. The report concluded that in its present state, the airport contributes marginally to the economic well-being of Tracy, and it recommended several ways to improve.
“It could be argued that, with realistic and focused enhancements Tracy Municipal has the potential to become financially self-sustaining while providing incremental benefits to the city and its residents,” the report states.
The list of short-term solutions for the city, the Boyd Group concluded, includes reclaiming the aircraft fueling contract from the operators of the Tracy Flight Center, building more hangars for general aviation planes and selling New Jerusalem Airport.
New Jerusalem is an unused strip of concrete among the fields seven miles southeast of town. The city has asked the Federal Aviation Administration for more than three years to sell New Jerusalem but has been turned down.
“The Boyd Group fails to realize that the FAA is of the opinion that more concrete is needed, not less,” said John Howard, chairman of the Tracy Airport Commission. “The FAA is not going to allow the city to do anything with that land except run it as an airport.”
The city also has signed a 20-year contract with Lloyd McFarlin to operate the flight center. The contract runs through 2013.
“To run this business, you need all the elements, and fuel is one of them,” McFarlin said. “From my limited look at the report, it has some real discrepancies in it.”
Longer term, the study suggested building a new administration complex and linking with city water and sewer lines. Both are goals of the commission as well.
But the report also concluded that extending the main runway is too expensive and impractical given the airport’s proximity to development and the California Aqueduct.
“It is true that a longer runway could handle a wider range of business aircraft, but there is no guarantee that an extension would actually attract entities to use Tracy,” the report states.
Commissioners have stressed that a 1,500-foot extension of the runway is vital to lure more commercial aircraft.
“They believe the status quo is fine, and we do not,” Howard said. “In our strategic plan, we want to move the airport forward to become a definite asset to the city. If it’s properly managed, cared for and capital investment made, we believe it will become a serious competitor because of its location.”
Commissioner Susan Gilbert said the report validated many of the commission’s ideas, dating back to its 2003 plan. It also provided City Council members a more detailed set of criteria than volunteer community members could. But it isn’t perfect.
“We feel encouraged by having the report, but we still need to ingest it,” she said. “We will argue with some parts of it.”
The commission is expected to hold a special meeting near the end of June to weigh the Boyd Group report more fully, Howard said.