According to Mike Chambless, Hollister Municipal Airport director, most residents don’t realize just how valuable an asset the airport is to the city, providing an economic impact of $10 million and contributing as much as $100,000 annually to the city’s General Fund. Since 1999, he said, revenues have continuously increased dramatically, and are expected to approach $1.2 million by 2018. When Chambless took over the airport in 2007, revenues were approximately $450,000. This year, he said revenues are projected to surpass $1 million.
“Currently, we have about $115,000 set aside for capital improvements at the airport,” he told the council. “We have an additional $115,000 for rainy day issues, $115,000 for major equipment replacements and $220,000 for our FAA matching funds, which will match over $2 million in federal grants.”
Over the past five years, Chambless has managed to secure $12 million in federal grants. He went on to say that out of 194 airports throughout California that the FAA and the state recognizes as important airports, Hollister Airport is 76th when it comes to the number of planes based there. The nearest airport in comparison is Mather Field in Sacramento. He said Hollister Airport has the third longest runway in its region, which includes San Jose, Monterey and Los Banos.
“San Jose has a 10,000-foot runway, Monterey’s is 7,300-feet and Hollister’s is 6,350 feet,” he said. “If you look at how our airport stacks up for business compatibility, we rank very well. There is no category that we were deficient in.
In addition to securing $12 million in grants, Chambless said other five-year achievements include reconstructing the primary runway, along with a mile and a half of storm drains that run alongside the runway. He also said a 14,000-square-foot hanger was recently completed.
Chambless said his primary responsibility has always been to focus on fiscal responsibility. He said the airport shows a profit each year and the infrastructure needs are being met.
“Our emphasis is on safety, standards and maintenance,” he said. “We are concentrating on attracting and maintaining the type of users that benefit the whole city, not just the airport.”
The primary need at the facility is safety improvements to the taxiways, he noted, explaining the way they were designed in 1944 and no longer match FAA standards.
“The FAA would like them fixed and they’re willing to pay 90 percent of the cost,” Chambless said. He explained further that the estimated cost for various projects over the next five to seven years would be $10 million. Of that, $9 million would come from the federal government, with the remainder coming from the state.
Councilman Jim Gillio said he had toured the airport with Chambless and came away impressed.
“We have a lot to offer and we need to continue to do our best to advertise the airport,” Gillio said. “I’d really like to see the air show come back. We’re so close to the Silicon Valley and everybody talks about the traffic. We can land just about any corporate jet here and I think the more we get the word out the better.”
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez asked how many aircraft are actually located at the airport and how many of those are registered there. Chambless said there are 144 planes registered at the airport. The mayor wondered if all the hangers were occupied by aircraft. He was told that every hanger meets FAA regulations and has planes in them. Velazquez wondered if there were any plans for additional hangers.
“As the capital improvement fund reaches the proper amount my next proposal will be that we put up a stick of executive hangers,” Chambless said. “The future of aviation is business aviation, so I would recommend that we put up four or five executive hangers. I already have three customers out the gate if I put them up tomorrow.”
He said the hangers would cost from $2.5 to $3 million, but there is insufficient funds right now to move forward. The mayor asked how lease rates compared to other airports. Chambless answered that Salinas’ rates were lower, while another nearby airports’ rates are double Hollister’s.
Hollister resident Marty Richman said that even though Chambless’ presentation was excellent, the city needed to be prepared to take the next step, which is to attract more businesses. He said he read a Caltrans report recently that stated that as of 2015, it had no freight data for the Hollister Airport, so it listed the airport as zero freight shipped.
“We should be shipping freight and asking the Chamber of Commerce and others to promote the airport,” Richman said. “We always say we have beautiful weather here, but we should be saying we have an airport that can take your business and ship air freight.”
There is a great deal of public benefit that residents know nothing about, Richman added, such as the Cal Fire aircraft that provide fire protection. Velazquez recommended that Chambless come back on a quarterly basis to report on the airport.
“I think it’s about to turn around where people are going to use the airport to commute,” the mayor said. “I know when I’m in Redwood City when planes fly in I think I need to buy a plane. It would be much easier to fly to work than to drive in that traffic. I can see a lot of jet traffic coming in.”