Salinas’ Airport an untapped Economic Gold Mine
May 19, 2015
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  • Saturday’s Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Fly-in at the Salinas Municipal Airport was a smash hit.

    Airport Manager Brett Godown said Monday that he was pleased with the turnout.

    He should be.

    It’s great that Godown, the city and AOPA could pull this off. My hat’s off to them. How great would it be if the city staged a general aviation convention (camp-in?) of this type every year?

    “The weather on Friday and Saturday was a bit finicky but that didn’t deter (AOPA) members coming and seeing some of the best Salinas has to offer (my opinion is slightly bias),” Godown said in an email.

    Folks, even if you don’t particularly like aviation (and that would be just weird), understand that Saturday marked a big deal for our city’s airport. Though admission was free, the event was served as a big economic multiplier for the city economy. Just think of the hotel nights, gas purchases (aviation and car) and restaurant meals bought. Nothin’ but upside, eh?

    Oh, and despite there being so many aircraft around not a single accident was reported. According to Godown, the Salinas Air Traffic Control Tower experienced 1,300 operations (takeoffs and/or landings) on Saturday as compared to a normal day’s estimated 166 flight operations. Pretty amazing.

    The one day fly-in attracted about 3,000 spectators and 400 private aircraft. And, believe me, I was out there and the ramps were wingtip to wingtip. Several dozen pilots and their families even camped out overnight on the tarmac. Some 70 exhibitors filled a large tent pavilion, pitching everything under the aviation world sun – parts, planes and services. Add in some music, food and some aerobatics and you had a real party on your hands.

    Seriously, though, the event once again showed the airport’s potential as one of the city’s most powerful economic engines. And though I think Godown’s doing a great job out there, I just don’t get the feeling that City Hall quite grasps the real potential here.

    Like I was saying in Saturday’s column about how the city really needs to start showing some leadership about getting the Chinatown area back on its feet, it also needs to start investing more staff time and resources at the airport.

    I mean, seriously, City Council has now spent more than $800,000 of general fund money on John Hartnett and his vaunted Silicon Valley Global Partners consultancy and for what? Some five years after the city engaged SVG, all we can show are two entrepreneurial development classes (put on, actually, by the Kauffman Foundation) and a kids computer coding club? C’mon. Show me a serious deliverable from SVG and I will be the first to sing their praises.
    In the meantime, we have an airport that I believe could be made into a real money maker. And, sure, we’re going to have to think way the heck out of the box on this but so what? That’s what we should be doing.

    Steady readers know that my idea is to extend Salinas’ main runway by several thousand feet so that bigger and heavier aircraft can take off and land there. To do this, we would have to redesign the runway configurations and, yes, retire the municipal golf course that’s adjacent to the airport.
    (Sorry golfers – I count myself as being among your tribe, but we need that land to extend the runways to accommodate the bigger jets.)
    But to what end?

    With longer runways, we could the pursue bringing UPS or FedEx here and invite them to set up a regional shipping hub for the Central Coast.
    And I think they would do this because too often Monterey’s airport is unusable – shrouded in fog and poor weather. Salinas, on the other hand, is ridiculously sunny most of the year. The fact that the 101 Freeway is literally a stone’s throw away from the airport makes this idea all the more groovy.

    Interestingly, our city does have an Airport Commission and it is scheduled to meet May 28 at 7 p.m. at City Hall. By the way, in case you were wondering, here’s who serves on the commission: Diane Ausonio (mayor’s appointee), Sal Munoz (District 1), Mark Zanko (District 2), Jim Shumaker (District 3), Richard Fors (District 4), Susan Purvis (District 5) and Robert McGregor (District 6).

    And, yes, sure, this idea of extending and reconfiguring the runways will indeed cost aboatload of money. But all capital improvement projects are deliberative and political in nature, which means spending priorities can be changed when a majority of the City Council says so. State and federal grants are available, too.

    Just think of what could happen if the city actually focused on the economic development of one of the biggest assets it already owns – the airport.

    At a minimum, it’s my hope that Mayor Joe Gunter, City Manager Ray Corpuz Jr. and City Council will at least direct Airport Commissioners to begin looking at how we can squeeze every possible economic development dollar out of the facility.

    Each year our city government spends gobs – and I mean gobs – of money on outside consultants. It would be a shame if we couldn’t spend a little of that money on some aviation consultants who could objectively tell us what we really have on our hands here.

    My guess is that that they will find this airport is an untapped gold mine.