Yolo County officials and local business owners expect federal stimulus-funded runway upgrades to the Yolo County Airport to not only make things safer for pilots, but also boost the surrounding economy.
The 40-acre rural airport located just outside of Woodland, Calif. was recently approved for $1.35 million from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to resurface the runway that was once used as flight support during World War II in the case of an enemy attack.
The airport is now utilized by several local agriculture operations, parachuting businesses, transportation for entertainers to Cache Creek Casino Resort and rest stops for aviators.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 granted the FAA $1.3 billion for projects and programs nationwide, with $474 million of that going toward runway improvements.
The total Yolo County Airport project, including design, is expected to cost $2 million, with the rest of the funding coming from separate local and federal grants, said Terry Vernon, Yolo County deputy director of General Services.
Vernon said the resurfacing has needed to be done for quite some time and the last airport improvement plan was completed six or seven years ago. Because the airport is an enterprise fund – supporting itself through leasing of hangers and land – it receives no funding from the county. Though a small county staff is used for regular upkeep, funding for upgrades can be difficult to come by outside of grant monies.
“It takes a while to do things, especially when you don’t have anybody specifically assigned to do that type of work,” Vernon said.
A few months ago, after the Reinvestment Act was passed, Vernon said the county discovered the FAA would have the appropriate funding available to secure, and finalized the long-awaited resurfacing project that will both smoothen and deepen the landing pad.
The increased depth of the runway will make it safer and allow for larger aircraft to land by increasing the depth.
“We’re not talking a C-141 or anything, but we’re talking basically the type of aircraft that people would charter or carry six to 12 people in a Lear jet,” Vernon said.
One of the many aviation businesses that lease a hanger at Yolo County Airport is Davis Flight Support – a fuel and maintenance general aviation and corporate jet company. Davis Flight, which has leased hangers and land at the airport for a year-and-a-half, and its sister company Woodland Aviation located about eight miles from the airport, provide aircraft maintenance, discounted fuel, limo services from the airport to entertainment venues such as Cache Creek Casino Resort and resting amenities such as showers and a place to sleep for pilots.
Gary Pelfrey, vice president of Davis Flight Support and Woodland Aviation, says the upgrades will drastically increase his business and surrounding businesses such as hotels, restaurants and rental car companies that will all benefit from more air traffic coming into the area.
“It’s nice to see other business activity coming into Yolo County that’s not agriculture-related, it diversifies the money coming into the county,” Pelfrey said. “The more airplanes we bring in, the county makes property taxes off the ones that are in a hanger here and they also make revenue and taxes off the fuel and services we provide.”
When the runway upgrades are complete (by the end of June or early July), Pelfrey plans to move the maintenance operations of Woodland Aviation to the Yolo County Airport, purchase an additional 20,000 square-foot hanger and expand his employee base (he currently has 36 employees).
“This will let me go ahead and pull the trigger on that,” he said.
Pelfrey said that even though he expects his business to be more successful and efficient because of the resurfacing, he is glad the county was successful in obtaining the federal stimulus money for safety reasons.
“You want to provide a safe environment for your pilots,” he said. “At some point, if you don’t maintain [the runway], then the cost becomes pretty substantial if you let things degrade.”
John Munn, president of the Yolo County Taxpayers Association, said that while he doesn’t know the details of the project at the airport, he is worried about the amount of money the federal government is handing out.
“Personally, I think it is going to create us huge problems in the future; spending all of this money now,” Munn said.
The Yolo County Taxpayers Association is a local nonprofit, nonpartisan group of local citizens and agricultural, business, industrial and professional organizations that meets once a month to takes positions on county issues that will effect taxpayers. The association is currently coming up with positions on Propositions 1A-1F, which will appear on the ballot in the California Special Election on May 19.
Munn did say that the entire association has reservations about the federal stimulus package.
“Most of the members are concerned about the effects of economic stimulus spending,” he said. “It has the potential of creating future inflation that will be just another problem to solve that will be painful to everybody instead of the people that are more directly effected by the current downturn.”
Terry Vernon said the federal stimulus money has allowed the county to complete a project that could not be funded in any other way, while helping to improve the surrounding business climate and infrastructure.
“If there is funding available from the federal government to cities, counties or state government, we’re interested in that because we want to put something on the street to make an improvement in Yolo County that will stimulate the economy,” Vernon said.
The FAA expects to have more than $550 million obligated by June 17 and the final balance of $1.3 billion supplied by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 obligated by September 30.