When he was 14, Kim Ellis went behind his parents’ backs and spent the $20 he had in his pocket for a helicopter ride at the Iowa State Fair.
He’s been hooked on flying ever since.
“There was a freedom to it … just being up and being able to see everything,” he said.
Now 59 and living in Moreno Valley, Ellis has spent more than a quarter of a century in the aviation industry, the bulk of it in management at Ontario International Airport. Ellis retired from his job at Los Angeles World Airports on June 27. Three days later, he took the helm as manager of Riverside Municipal Airport. His salary is $100,000 per year.
Ellis holds the position previously occupied by Mark Ripley, who retired in April.
“This airport has potential,” Ellis said recently from his second-floor office overlooking the runaway. “One of the reasons I was brought in was to help the airport move to its next level.”
His goal is to develop the city-owned and -operated airport in modest steps. That includes working with two tenants who want to expand by adding ramp space and hangars on the west end. The project tentatively calls for 20 to 40 hangars to be built.
An additional nine hangars are moving to Riverside from the soon-to-be-closed Rialto Municipal Airport. The Riverside airport currently has 160 hangars, all of them occupied. A dozen people are on a waiting list for hangar space, he said.
To accommodate future development on the east side, the airport is working with Southern California Gas Company to move a pipeline at the end of the runway. Other projects include minor pavement repairs phased in over several years, he said.
“We’re not just going to do this explosive growth,” Ellis said. “They’re not going to see Southwest in here. They’re not going to see United in here. That’s not the type of growth we’re talking about. It will be a growth they’re able to live with.”
Flight activity at the airport has picked up in recent years as the economy has rebounded, he said. The airport expects 100,000 takeoffs or landings this year, nearly double a 10-year low of 53,677 operations in 2007.
Ellis said he’s working with other city departments to develop a marketing plan to encourage general aviation fliers and corporate jet owners to stop in Riverside instead of surrounding airports. The Riverside airport provided an estimated $44.8 million economic benefit to the local economy in 2008, the most recent year the city has figures.
“My objective is to get all those pilots who are flying past us to stop here, buy some gas, spend the night in a local hotel, visit the Mission Inn (and) visit the theaters,” he said.
Tenants say they are hopeful Ellis will continue the success provided by Ripley.
“The airport has good momentum, and it’s moving in the right direction,” said Chad Davies, owner of Riverside Air Service, a fixed-base operator under contract with the city to provide fueling and maintenance services. The business also has hangar and tie-down space for general aviation pilots and corporate fliers.
Davies said he has expansion plans that include two executive-style hangars for corporate jets to be built in coming months. A range of smaller hangars for private planes and larger hangars for aviation businesses also will be built next year, he said.
Another tenant, Waypoint Aviation Maintenance, has quadrupled its sales of aircraft parts and supplies since moving to the airport three years ago, said Richard Matano, the company’s director of maintenance.
In the next few years, the company plans to demolish its facility and construct a building about twice as large as the current 9,000-square-foot structure, he said.
“The economy of the airport is growing,” Matano said. “The use of the airport is picking up. The easiest thing (Ellis) can do is don’t increase any current leases or add additional regulations.”
THE NEWS & ADVANCE
Aviation Community weighs in on changes at airport
August 11, 2014
By Justin Faulconer
City officials reached out to the local aviation community Monday to give flight to ideas on the airport’s future as a decision regarding the lease of a fixed-base operator looms on the horizon.
More than 75 people, many pilots, attended a general aviation forum the city, airport and Freedom Aviation hosted at the city’s information technology center at Young’s Place.
Freedom Aviation, a Liberty University subsidiary, recently acquired Virginia Aviation, its competitor and only other provider of fixed-base operations at the airport.
The merger has sparked some concerns of a monopoly from a single operator, which contrasts with the airport’s goal of a competitive business atmosphere.
Airport Director Mark Courtney said Freedom Aviation purchasing Virginia Aviation is akin to a major airline buying another airline. His concern is one FBO could lead to higher prices in fuel and other services, and is not in line with the longstanding preference to have private companies facilitate competitive pricing.
“It’s always better for the market to have competition,” Courtney said Monday.
Freedom Aviation asked Lynchburg City Council in June to waive a lease provision to terminate Virginia Aviation’s lease if the company sold or went out of business. About four years were left on the lease when the acquisition took place. City Manager Kimball Payne said council has been asked reassign the remainder of the lease to Freedom Aviation.
“Currently we have an ongoing month-to-month lease arrangement between the city and Freedom Aviation” for operations at the airport until a decision is made, Payne said.
Payne said council could reassign the lease or decline.
Declining could mean the city taking over facilities that were leased by Freedom Aviation, hiring a third party to do so or setting up a bidding process in which Freedom Aviation could participate.
Payne said the city’s goals moving forward are to enhance commercial and general aviation but a major priority is to eliminate the city’s subsidy from the annual budget. The way to do that is through revenues from commercial aviation and general services at the airport, he said.
“We have made a lot of progress in reducing that subsidy,” Payne said.
The city continues to work to foster business opportunities at the airport along with services and amenities, he said. “We want to do nothing to diminish them,” Payne said. “We only want to enhance them moving forward.”
Some in the audience wore Freedom Aviation shirts and badges and Dave Young, the company’s president, was on hand. He has said the company is not looking at monopolizing the airport but wants to make the site more competitive from a regional perspective.
While concerns of a monopoly were echoed in the forum, the main purpose was to fuel conversation on what the aviation community would like to see. Payne asked what services, facilities and amenities the group wants, what “unrealized opportunities” could come to fruition and any other issues to consider.
The information would be taken into account by the Lynchburg Airport Commission, an advisory panel of nine members, at its Aug. 25 meeting. Payne said the goal was to generate some feedback outside of a public hearing process as the airport commission plans make a formal recommendation to council, which then would hold its own public hearing.
All commission members attended the forum. In May, the commission voted 5-2, with two members abstaining, to recommend denial of the lease reassignment largely based on reservations if the city would benefit from the deal.
Council postponed a vote in June to further review the matter.
The group suggested a variety of desired outcomes: more hanger space conducive to multiple aircraft use, keeping fuel prices low, allowing for self-service fuel and more access for rental craft.
One group said Lynchburg’s airport could become a destination if a restaurant was established. Making aircraft available to the public through a flying club, simulators for flight training and safety seminars were mentioned.
Bert Dodson, a former City Council member who serves the airport commission, said a restaurant could go a long way to bring in more traffic to the airport.
“The airport is pretty segregated from the Lynchburg general community,” he said.
Payne added: “It would be great if we could charge the city meals tax,” at the suggested restaurant, a good-natured quip that the airport is located in Campbell County and tax revenues go to that locality.
Another group suggested fly-ins and “showcase” events to generate more business at the airport. Some mentioned asked for assurances that Freedom Aviation won’t give the Liberty University School of Aeronautics preferential treatment over the general aviation community.
Liberty officials have said any such preferential treatment would not take place.
One group leader said he felt the focus was “skewed” on internal competition rather than regional competition. He expressed concern the city’s involvement as a FBO would bring “artificial competition” that could raise prices because the company would in turn have less operations in meeting its overhead.
Councilman Randy Nelson attended the forum and said over the years he has found such forums to solicit feedback on issues has benefited decision making processes and, given the asset the airport is, this upcoming decision will be an important one.
Courtney said facilities at the airport are “very, very hard to duplicate” and having one FBO would create barriers for entries of future businesses.
As far as the airport and city taking over operation of the facilities, he said “It’s a natural extension that we would be able do that.”