In 1942, the City of Watsonville paid $93,000 for 287 acres of land to be used for development of the Watsonville Airport. The U.S Navy leased the land from the city in 1943 to support the war effort. The Navy completed the construction of the airport runways and ramps and operated the airport as NAAS Watsonville from 1943 to 1947. The Watsonville Municipal Airport, like many airports, is considered a part of the national transportation system. Major improvements and renovations are funded by federal grants through the Federal Aviation Administration, while day-to-day operations are funded by airport users. As is the case with many airports, local tax dollars are not used to fund Watsonville Airport operations or projects.
The Watsonville Airport is operated as a quasi-private business or, in government terms, as an enterprise operation. As such, all revenue generated by the airport can only be used for the benefit of the airport. Oversight of airport operations and capital improvement projects is provided by the city’s Public Works and Utilities Department. As an enterprise, the airport pays the city for all support services it receives, such as accounting, personnel, and legal services. With strong City Council support, the airport has pursued and received millions of dollars in FAA grants over recent years for upgrades to the runways, runway protection zones, taxiways and navigational aids. Hangar construction, building maintenance, operating expenses and other airport improvements are funded with local, airport-generated revenue such as hangar rental fees and fuel sales.
The Watsonville Airport is classified as a regional general aviation airport. This designation simply means the airport is used by all types of aircraft, with the exception of commercial air carriers. A study conducted in 2003 by the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments indicated that user activity at Watsonville Airport can be categorized as approximately 57 percent business and 43 percent tourism. Certainly, both business and tourism airport users contribute significantly in supporting our local economy.
One of the great things about GA airports is the unique access they provide to the rest of country. Rarely can you get directly where you want to go using commercial air carriers. Local businesses can use the Watsonville Airport to travel, at relatively low cost, to places like Visalia, Bakersfield or to any of the other 13,000 airports around the country not served by commercial air carriers.
In addition to great access to areas not served by the air carriers, business and other travelers also have the freedom of choosing the time of departure and arrival. For example, a pilot flying a single-engine Beechcraft with three passengers can leave Watsonville at a time of his or her choosing and fly from Watsonville to Burbank in about 1 hour, 20 minutes at a total operating cost of less than $200.
In contrast, there are no direct commercial flights to Burbank out of San Jose or Monterey. Leaving Monterey on a commercial carrier, with a plane transfer in San Francisco, the travel time to Burbank is 2 hours, 30 minutes at $342 per person. Add the hour-and-a-half drive and early check-in time, and you’re looking at a total of four hours. Not only is flying from Watsonville cost-effective for local business and other travelers, but it also saves considerable time and is much more convenient compared to using a commercial carrier.
The city has some exciting plans for the future development of the Watsonville Airport, including a significant extension of the main runway, replacing visual slope indicators, and installing a new precision approach system. We are currently performing engineering studies to develop a master airport utilities and drainage plan. Additionally, the city has plans to build 100 new hangars. This increase in hangars will provide additional shelter for aircraft parking, increased revenues for the airport, and an increase in tax revenue for the city and Pajaro Valley Unified School District due to the increased number of aircraft based in Watsonville.
The Watsonville Airport is already a tremendous asset to our community and local economy. With the many future improvements in the works and strong City Council support, the airport’s future looks bright.
More information regarding the Watsonville Airport can be found by visiting www.watsonvilleairport.com or by contacting the airport at 728-6075.
David Koch is the public works and utilities director for the City of Watsonville. The opinions of columnists are not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.Register-Pajaronian