Study group charts possible revenue sources for Pittsfield airport
PITTSFIELD — Agreements that could boost revenue for the Pittsfield Municipal Airport are close at hand.
The news, shared during a study group meeting Monday, drew praise from Christopher Connell, the Ward 4 city councilor who has been critical of annual requests for city funding and proposed a study to determine whether the operation is cost-effective. After hearing new proposals to increase revenue, Connell said the session was "probably the most encouraging meeting I've attended."
The study group has been meeting since winter, examining revenue sources, including leases of airport land or hanger space, annual expenses and long-term debt for airport improvements, along with the economic impact of having a municipal airport in Pittsfield.
One stated goal was to determine whether the airport should continue to be operated by the city or whether privatization or some other format would be preferable.
The nine-member study group was appointed by Mayor Linda M. Tyer at the request of the council and will issue recommendations to her office.
Airport Commission Chairman Christopher Pedersen and Michael Lyon, of Lyon Aviation, the airport's fixed-base operator firm, briefed committee members on tentative agreements that emerged at a recent commission meeting, including for a possible increase in landing fees for visiting aircraft that could generate in the range of $15,000 a year in new revenue.
Another proposal, Lyon said, is for aircraft managed by Lyon Aviation but not owned by the private FBO firm, to also begin paying landing fees — generating an estimated $80,000 more annually in airport revenue.
Lyon said some details still have to be worked out.
"We have to figure out a creative way to fold it into our rates," he said.
He added, "I don't think any other fixed-base operators in the state" are paying fees.
Other fee hikes under consideration are a slight increase in the charge for aviation fuel for visiting aircraft — of which the city receives a percentage — and an increase in the fees to tie down aircraft at parking spots along the runway, from $190 per year to a proposed $300 per year.
But the key, Lyon and Pedersen said, is whether the "total package" of fees and other revenue proposals allow the private FBO to continue to run a profitable business. Many of the proposals under consideration were recommended by Airport Manager Robert Snuck after he researched revenue practices at other airports and related management methods, Pedersen said.
The Federal Aviation Administration also will be consulted on the best methods of balancing fees at a small airport with revenue to help cover expenses, he said, adding that adjustments could be made if new fees have a negative effect on the business or cause aircraft owners to use other airports instead.
"I understand," Connell said. "This is going to have to be trial and error."
He added, "I certainly agree this has to be a package" that balances different types of fees.
The proposed fee increases "are a reflection of us listening to the City Council" on annual airport costs to the city, Pedersen said, but he noted that "we also have heard from some that fees are too high," necessitating a need to carefully calculate how new fees are assessed.
"I appreciate the collaboration and cooperation from Chris and Mike," Connell said. "This is probably the first [committee] meeting I've attended where I am encouraged from my perspective. I got in this to try to help out the city."
Lyon also said the FBO firm and the commission are exploring building a new large hanger with attached office space, which could increase revenue from leasing to aircraft owners, and what the city's role in the project should be.
Both he and Pedersen said, however, that major projects will require that the airport's multi-year master plan first be updated and approved by the FAA and the state Department of Transportation's Aeronautics Division.
Another proposal, suggested previously by Snuck, is to lease some of the 600 acres of airport land for a solar power generating array that could provide significant lease income. That also must await a new master plan, he said.
Study committee Chairman Thomas Sakshaug said an FAA official will be invited to attend the next meeting, tentatively set for Sept. 14.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.
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