Humboldt County supervisors OK airport study

Small planes sit on the tarmac at the Humboldt County airport in McKinleyville.
Small planes sit on the tarmac at the Humboldt County airport in McKinleyville. The Times-Standard file

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved a study Tuesday seeking to explore new uses for county airport properties.

“This is all aimed at making the airport an actual enterprise zone so it can be successful,” 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said of the study.

The county’s Aviation Enterprise Fund, which is supposed to generate its own revenue through airport business, has been in a deficit for the past eight years. The board awarded a $53,500 contract to Indiana-based consulting firm Volaire Aviation Inc. to conduct the study for the next year.

Public Works Director Tom Mattson said the study approved Tuesday will help determine other ways the county can use airport property to increase revenues. Mattson said these could be industrial uses or something similar to a proposal to create a solar energy array at the Humboldt County airport in McKinleyville.

“Are we charging appropriate fees? Are there other areas we can be leasing out, other uses to increase revenues to the Aviation Division?” Mattson said to the Times-Standard after the meeting. “... (The study is) just looking for other ideas and having other eyes on our properties to pick up some things that we maybe missed.”

Mattson said airport-related uses would still be prioritized.

The Aviation Enterprise Fund had a negative $545,300 balance at the start of this fiscal year and is set to end the year in June with a negative balance of $362,500, according to the county. If left unaddressed, the Aviation Fund may begin drawing from the county’s General Fund in order to become balanced, according to county staff.

The deficit has been primarily attributed to a lack of airlines at the Humboldt County airport in McKinleyville. Currently, United Airlines and PenAir are the only two airline services at the airport.

Mattson — who oversees the county’s Aviation Division and six local airports — told the board that airport financing has “changed drastically” in the past decade.

“With the competition with the airlines, we’re not just able to run the airport by billing the airlines because they just go elsewhere,” he said. “... Airlines are looking at maximizing profits, and when you start hitting them up with fees they do go elsewhere.”

Mattson said the study would mainly focus on the Humboldt County, Rohnerville and Garberville airports.

The county had attempted to contract for a similar study about five years ago, Mattson said, but the proposed costs to carry it out were too high at the time.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.