Wednesday, May 28, 2008

in which I assail the competition

Upgraded airport: build it, but they won’t come
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Airport enthusiasts to the contrary, there isn’t really a market for the glittering toys known as very light jets (VLJs) – not in Glenn County,

In late April, four to seven person “air taxis” that travel between small airports were the subject of an hour-and-a-half presentation by CalTrans Aviation Planning chief Terry Barrie, enthusiastically received.

The service would come to Glenn County, board members and observers hoped, after some airport upgrades funded by grants (read: ‘subsidies.’)

The Journal-Press Register subsequently billed VLJs as a “craze that’s taking over the skies” on the top of page 1 – but back of the envelope calculations quickly dispel any notion that they’re coming here, any time soon.

Public Works deputy director Randy Murphy gave out fliers for DayJet, one of the premier VLJ companies, which shuttles passengers between points in the southeastern U.S.

Despite repeated requests over many days, DayJet claimed they were too busy to help us out with some simple data requests, but we’ll try to use them as a model for VLJ air travel anyway.
About one-sixth of small airports are designated as a DayPort, which handle from 10 to 25 takeoffs and landings daily, the flier notes.

We’ll be optimistic and say that Willows or Orland airport is so designated – but given the population density of Glenn, Colusa, and Lake Counties and the serviceability of Chico airport, we’ll round “10 to 25 people” to “10 people.”

DayPorts reasonably require a car rental near the airport. So if the airport plan comes to pass, a rental car service must materialize in Glenn County.

The chances of that? Low.

Compare people.

Butte County has four rental car outlets – for a population seven times as large as Glenn County’s and with a 25 percent higher per-person income.

Compare airport traffic.

Chico alone has three rental car outlets, for about 100 people who fly out of Chico airport commercially every day, an airline rep said – not to mention private passengers. How’s another 10 people coming daily into Willows or Orland going to draw a rental car agency?

Not to mention, as Mr. Murphy noted at the meeting, “all of this costs money, and we’re short of that.”

Simple solution: use someone else’s, through subsidies.

FAA grants are available, Mr. Barrie said, and if they require local matching funds, CalTrans can provide that.

But the question of whether too many people would really want to come to teeny Glenn County didn’t dishearten enthusiasts present at the meeting – like pilot Tony Miller, Terry Jackson, or entrepreneurial Journal reporter Susan Meeker, whose office is next door to the Willows airport.

“I’ll run a service out of my van,” she joked.

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