Pittsfield Municipal Airport study group focuses on revenue options

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PITTSFIELD — A study group looking into operations of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport heard Thursday about several ideas under consideration to boost airport revenues.

City Airport Commission Chairman Christopher Pedersen said such efforts have essentially been on hold for a number years during a major expansion and safety upgrade project at the 600-acre facility off Tamarack Road. But the commission and new airport Manager Robert Snuck, who began in the post in November, have actively pursued methods of increasing revenue and lowering the amount required from city government.

The nine-member committee was appointed by Mayor Linda M. Tyer at the request of the City Council to explore whether it is more cost-effective for Pittsfield to own and manage the airport or seek to privatize it or consider other management options.

"For the past 10 years, most of our attention has been on the [upgrade] project," Pedersen said, adding that recently Snuck and the commission "have been trying to focus on how we can enhance the airport facility, increase revenue and integrate it more with the community."

With the main runway and surrounding areas sometimes under construction, he said, it was difficult to schedule fly-in events by aviation groups, car shows or other events to bring residents to the facility, but those ideas are again being considered.

The setting is ideal for public events, Snuck said. "It is probably one of the prettiest airports in the Northeast," he said. "The sunset are incredible."

In answer to questions from study group members, Snuck said two initiatives he is exploring are adding hanger space to bring in lease revenue and leasing up to 30 acres on the 600-acre site for a solar array, which could add significant annual revenue.

A solar facility "could be a game-changer" for the airport, he said, by generating in the neighborhood of $200,000, based on a solar project at a Cape Cod airport.

However, both Pedersen and Snuck cautioned that both ideas are only in the exploratory stage and would have to await completion of an airport master plan, which is due to be updated.

Pedersen said the Federal Aviation Administration would, for instance, want to see an updated master plan before approving use of airport land for a solar array.

Concerning the addition of hanger space at the airport, Snuck said there is a demand for that, with 20 requests and a waiting list. He said more aircraft owners today want to store their planes indoors rather than outdoors attached to a "tie-down" along the runway.

At one time, he and Pedersen said, the federal government provided funding for creation of hanger space, but the focus in recent years has been on safety improvements, such as runway extensions and repaving of runways.

Snuck said, however, that he hopes to convince the FAA and MassDot to help fund "a test case" in Pittsfield on the revenue-enhancing possibilities of adding hanger space at a regional airport. He said adding a multiplane hanger here could generate $30,000 per year in revenue.

Committee members and City Councilors Donna Todd Rivers, Christopher Connell and Melissa Mazzeo questioned the airport officials and Michael Lyon of Lyon Aviation, the fixed-based operator at the airport, on the revenue potential of fees for aircraft landings and takeoffs.

Lyon said there are approximately 35,000 takeoffs and landing per year at the airport, but nearly all involving general aviation craft which are not charged a landing fee.

About 1,500 of those involve corporate aircraft not based at the airport. Lyon Aviation, which as the FBO provides fuel and other services at the airport, does not pay a landing fee for its aircraft.

Of the corporate craft paying a fee, the costs to land range from $20 to $125, depending on size.

It is a standard in the industry, Snuck said, that smaller general aviation craft are not charged a landing fee, in part because pilots could opt for other airports within a given region and because the number of private planes has been declining as costs of maintaining one have gone up.

In addition, he said, the FAA provides small airports with annual funding for maintenance — about $100,000 in Pittsfield's case — in proportion to the number craft using the facility.

Concerning revenue from aviation fuel, Lyon and Pedersen said Lyon Aviation installed the current fuel tanks at the airport and receives the revenue from fuel sales, but also provides the city with 2 to 3 cents per gallon depending on fuel type. Lyon said hiking the price a few cents might be possible, but pilots also have the option of filling up at airports in the immediate area, such as at Harriman and West Airport in North Adams.

If the city were to purchase the fuel tanks or install its own to sell fuel directly, Lyon said it might prove difficult to keep an FBO company at the facility because of the loss of fuel revenue.

The study group will meet next on March 9, Chairman Thomas Sakshaug said, and he intends to invite FAA officials and representatives with the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp. to upcoming meetings.

PERC operates the 30-acre Westwood Business Park that was carved out of airport land and collects lease money from the lots, some of which comes back to the airport.

The group also intends to tour the airport in the near future.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-5247.


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