General aviation airports seeking to generate non-aeronautical lines of business discussed potential approaches to development that ranged from sport venues to solar farms during a May 19 session at AAAE’s Annual Conference and Exposition being held in Reno, Nev.
Robert Olislagers, A.A.E., executive director of Colorado’s Centennial Airport, said current economic conditions have caused more GA airports to focus on diversifying their revenue sources through leases to compatible businesses. He listed developments at his own airport that include a county facility for the storage of snow plows and other equipment; a hotel; pro golf, ice hockey and softball retail businesses; parking garages; a nine-hole executive golf course; a race track; and three restaurants, among others. The combination of businesses “does generate a fair amount of revenue for the airport,” he stated.
Todd McNamee, A.A.E., director of the Ventura County (Calif.) Department of Airports, noted that his airports have attracted varied commercial activity, including movie shoots, cell phone towers, a business park and farming, among other businesses. A “very successful” café generates $80,000 annually, he said. The airports also have room for training for police and fire departments.
Mike Van Wie, A.A.E., director of DeKalb Peachtree Airport (Ga.), said his airport’s non-aeronautical ventures include a storage facility, auto sales lot, and a DeKalb county sanitation transfer site. The sanitation site is totally indoors and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified. A side benefit of the site is that it has aided county and airport efforts to mitigate wildlife hazards, he said. A development idea currently under consideration is using one piece of property for a solar farm, he added.
Bobbi Thompson, executive vice president of Airport Business Solutions, advised airports to be careful when negotiating agreements with new businesses for development of airport property. “Negotiate with the idea that the potential partner/tenant might not be your partner/tenant in five years, and get every detail in writing.” She added that airports should be creative but be aware that, “What works at another airport might not work at your airport, and vice versa.”
An active question and answer session with session attendees generated numerous suggestions for other non-aeronautical projects. One idea came from Rod Dinger, A.A.E., manager of Redding (Calif.) Municipal Airport, who said his facility has an aquifer that allows the airport to lease wells to the local water department, which generates $45,000 annually.