A study group created by the Pittsfield City Council in an effort to privatize the city’s municipal airport has found the facility actually generates a significant amount of money.
The Pittsfield Municipal Airport houses nearly 50 aircraft, with about 50,000 scheduled flights a year.
The Airport Study Group’s Chairman Thomas Sakshaug says the group’s cost-benefit analysis found the airport generated more than $25,500 last year after property taxes and capital expenses.
“The economic effect of the airport is perhaps larger than you think,” he said.
Pittsfield has given the airport additional funds to operate, although it was designed to be self-sustaining. It pays for the airport’s salaries, benefits, utilities and maintenance.
“Over $10 million to payroll and over $35 million of total impact. A lot of ripple effect comes out of the airport,” Sakshaug said.
The city has about $2 million in debt from the airport — costing about $175,000 a year — for projects including a runway expansion. The Federal Aviation Administration pays the majority of the cost.
“Until recently the – it seems the airport has kind of cost money and that is probably one of the reasons my group was formed,” Sakshaug said.
But last year, the city increased various fees — for fueling and landing services, and hangar space — to see if the airport could generate revenue. If not, the City Council considered selling it to a private company.
The airport also gains revenue from operational leases, property taxes from Westwood Business Park, and grants from the FAA.
The study group has a few recommendations.
“First one is to require the airport commission to annually review adjusting landing fees, hangar fees and jet fuel flowage fees. This recommendation does not say to increase them every year. It does say to review them every year.”
Sakshaug recommends waiting for state and federal grants to do so. The group also strongly advises continuing to pursue the installation of a solar field. Four possible solar vendors are being interviewed later this month.
Gloria Bouillon, appointed airport manager last month, says other recommendations include a possible fuel surcharge and livery fee for nearby destinations that use the airport
“The airport is the gateway into the community and is the usually first impression a visitor receives when entering into the terminal facilities,” Bouillon says.
The group also says an annual review of the fees — and auditing video surveillance to ensure they are paid by pilots who land there — are also needed.
“I live near the airport. I’ll hear jets come in at 2 in the morning and take off a half hour, an hour later. Are we getting the landing fees for that jet? I don’t know,” Sakshaug says.
Bouillon says Pittsfield needs to run the airport more like a business to make it more popular. She says the airport’s plan is outdated and has the capacity to take on a much larger role.
“The FAA — Federal Aviation Administration— and state agencies are moving away from the model ‘design it and they will come,’ meaning airport sponsors and operators,” Bouillon says.
Based on 2017’s half year revenues, the study concludes the city will gain close to $160,000 from the airport. The study group says the city should create a separate account for the airport to use, so it doesn’t have to reallocate funds all the time.