May 27, 2012
By Steve Hart
Private aviation is starting to take off at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, where several aircraft service businesses are expanding and new ones are opening their doors.
It’s another sign of growth at the county-owned regional airport, which saw daily passenger flights return in 2007 with Alaska Air Group.
There’s a 28,000-square-foot hangar complex under construction at the north end of the airport, where KaiserAir is adding space for corporate and private jets.
A new company, Vine Jet, has just opened a 25,000-square-foot hangar, office and terminal complex southeast of the airport’s traffic control tower.
And the Santa Rosa airport is in talks with other businesses that want to serve the local aviation market.
“It’s really an exciting time at the airport,” said Josh Hochberg, president of Sonoma Jet Center, another company in expansion mode.
The regional airport saw a sharp drop in activity during the economic downturn. Flight operations – takeoffs and landings – plunged 43 percent in just three years, from 128,875 in 2007 to 72,737 in 2010.
“Economy and the cost of fuel had a big impact,” airport manager Jon Stout said.
Last year, flight operations grew 9 percent to 79,269, and they’re up another 5 percent so far this year, Stout said.
Alaska’s five daily flights account for less than 5 percent of air operations. The rest are private jets, propeller aircraft, helicopters and hot air balloons.
The airport has about two-dozen tenants, including flight schools, car rental agencies, air charter companies, maintenance and repair services, storage facilities and two “fixed-base operators” which provide a full range of aviation services.
Oakland-based KaiserAir is one of the fixed-base operators, with maintenance, repair, fueling, air charter, private terminal and hangar services.
KaiserAir acquired the business from Apex Aviation in 2008 and has been expanding ever since, said manager Glenn Barrett.
The company rebuilt an existing 30,000-square-foot hangar and converted another building into an upscale executive terminal for private aircraft owners.
KaiserAir also has moved its main repair and maintenance station from Oakland to Santa Rosa. Now it’s building a 28,000-square-foot hangar nearby with space for four to 12 aircraft.
The expansion will give KaiserAir more room for its maintenance and repair shops, Barrett said.
“Business in Santa Rosa has continued to grow,” he said.
KaiserAir performs some of the maintenance and repair for Alaska Airlines. The company didn’t disclose the cost of the new hangar.
The airport’s newly-approved growth plan will encourage business, Barrett said. The $84 million project includes longer runways, a new terminal, traffic control tower, air cargo facility and dozens of other improvements. The long-term growth plan would accommodate up to 21 flights a day.
“Longer runways are going to have a positive impact on our business and others,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vine Jet has opened its 25,000-square-foot hangar and private terminal at the Santa Rosa airport. The Napa-based company keeps a charter jet there and offers storage for private aircraft, said Vine Jet’s Steve Penning.
The project cost more than $2 million, according to the airport.
The airport also is a base for a third charter company, Petaluma’s Solairus Aviation.
The airport is now in talks with a company that wants to offer flight training with vintage aircraft and another business that does aviation electronics, Stout said.
And a fifth car rental brand, National, is coming to the passenger terminal, he said.
Sonoma Jet Center, the airport’s other fixed-base operator, has started selling new and used aircraft, said Hochberg. It recently became a dealer for a popular training and light sport aircraft, the Flight Design CTLS, he said.
“We’re really happy with it,” Hochberg said. The jet center also is starting to supply ethanol-free unleaded gasoline to aircraft owners.
Airport activity is on the rebound, with his business up dramatically from 2010, Hochberg said. Sonoma Jet Center sells fuel to Alaska Airlines and performs some repair and maintenance for the Seattle-based carrier.
Longer runways could help business with eastbound flights from Santa Rosa, Hochberg said.
“Sonoma County is poised for some healthy growth,” he said.