Corporate Jets Want More Space at Concord Airport

JANUARY 14, 2000

When it comes to where they land and house their business jets, many East Bay corporations are in a holding pattern. And it is not an air traffic controller putting them there. It's neighbors surrounding general aviation airports like Concord's Buchanan Field, a county-owned facility.

"I have been trying to expand my facilities for the last two years," said a frustrated Arnold Peterson, owner of Concord Aviation and Apri Aviation. But he can't until a new county-sponsored airport assessment study is completed later this year. Until then, any airport expansion is on hold.

With the economy booming, more East Bay businesses are investing in jets, either purchasing their own, buying a "fractional" share of a jet, or using charter services to upgrade their travel options.

And they need airport facilities close to their offices to store them as well as runways to take off and land. Traditionally, Oakland International Airport has been able to meet the demand for hangar space. But that airport is full and there is a waiting list for the first time in seven years, said Director of Aviation Steve Grossman.

Oakland's overflow is now headed to other East Bay airfields. Corporate activity at airports like Concord's Buchanan has picked up. Contra Costa County Director of Airports David Mendez said figures on the amount of jet fuel sold at Buchanan increased about 29 percent last year to slightly more than 1 million gallons from 795,134 gallons in 1998. "That's not all attributable to jets coming in," Mendez said, explaining other aircraft at the airport use jet fuel. "But a jump like that represents corporate activity." Much of that probably comes from outside jets that come in and out of the airport on day trips and are not housed there.

Currently, there are five hangars at Buchanan catering to business jet clients. The hangers collectively hold up to 14 jets, said Brian Horne, airport community relations. Concord Jet operates three large hangars and Apri and Concord, owned by Peterson, have two that handle corporate jets. Other operations catering to the business traveler don't have adequate hangar space to store business jets. Those operations, which include Navajo Aviation and Pacific States, offer charter service and other amenities for business jets when stopping at Buchanan, Horne said.

But those looking to house planes there are frustrated. Operations such as Apri Aviation, Concord Aviation, and Concord Jet are eager to capture their share of the corporate market by expanding their Buchanan facilities. The owners have made expansion requests.

Peterson, who operates a full-service corporate aircraft facility at Buchanan serving about 20 clients from around the Bay Area, a year ago partnered with James Markel and Associates of Napa to form Apex Aviation. The new partnership has been appointed a distributor and authorized service center for the Sino Swearingen SJ30-2 business jet for Northern California and Nevada. Peterson said he tried to work with airport authorities to locate his Sino Swearingen sales operation at Buchanan but was unsuccessful. So he has decided to locate that part of his operation in Napa. That translates to a sales tax loss of between $3 million to $4 million to Contra Costa County.

Ultimately, the county needs to determine whether the benefits of expanding business travel opportunities outweigh any noise and traffic problems. "That's what I hope the cost benefit analysis will show us," said Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier, who requested the first-ever analysis being conducted by San Francisco-based consulting firm Economic Research Inc.

Citizen groups like People Over Planes don't want the extra flights. Hal Yeager, the watchdog group's president, said when People Over Planes was suing Contra Costa County 10 years ago to restrict the number of commercial flights in and out of Buchanan, corporate jet travel wasn't on the radar screen. "Over the last 20 years it has increased tenfold," Yeager said. "Jet operations for corporations are now at the same level as what commercial service was 10 years ago and that is pushing our tolerance level."

Source: East Bay Business Times