Local leaders will be looking for ways to jump-start activity at Gustine’s municipal airport, and launch it back to financial health.
The once-thriving airport has fallen onto challenging times, City Manager Sean Scully recently acknowledged, and revitalization is required to assure the long-term viability of the facility.
“It is a difficult time at the airport. It is not performing financially the way it once did, which is not the fault of anyone,” Scully commented. “The general aviation market as a whole, if you talk to pilots, is suffering. (Aviation) is an expensive hobby to have, and when the recession hit a lot of folks decided they could no longer do it.”
Diminishing fuel sales – once a lifeblood for the airport budget – and deteriorating hangars are among the challenges facing the airport, Scully noted.
Finances have delayed completion of a crucial drainage project at the airport, aimed at alleviating the occasional wintertime flooding which has periodically forced closure of the lone runway.
“We had to pass on a project this year because we did not have the matching funds. The Federal Aviation Administration gives us about $150,000 a year that they want us to use, but the match for us is about 10 percent,” Scully explained. “We can’t just grab grant money because it is there. We have to do it within the confines of our budget.”
The financial challenges, he added, delay progress on the drainage project by at least a year.
The goal is for the airport to be financially self-sufficient, but several years ago $40,000 of general fund money was loaned to the airport budget to complete a taxi-way project.
“The fund is still trying to pay that off,” Scully said.
The airport, he added, is currently lacking the activity that would generate revenue needed to nurse the facility back to financial health.
The situation is, to a point, a Catch-22, Scully suggested.
Without the activity, the airport does not have the revenue to make needed improvements….but until those improvements are completed, drumming up additional revenue will be a challenge.
“We need more businesses out there, and probably more and better hangars,” Scully said.
The airport was a topic of discussion during a December council meeting.
Airport Commissioner Vic Andersen emphasized the importance of the facility to Gustine’s economy – and the importance of promoting the airport.
Mayor Dennis Brazil called for strong business sense in overseeing operations.
The airport could thrive “if we could get it to be a little more like Los Banos and give people a reason to fly into there,” Brazil commented.
Council member Pat Nagy noted that some cities with airports host fly-ins, and lease light industrial space at the aviation facility.
No single solution is likely to be the answer, Scully indicated.
“The big question is how do we get the airport to a point where it is financially stable and can operate on its own,” he reflected. “The general feeling is that we are proud to have an airport. We are a tiny town with an airport, which is an asset. How do we capitalize on that?”