Pittsfield Airport Study Group Presents Findings To Council
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When all is said and done, the Airport Study Group determined that airport operations don't cost the city money. It brings in money.
The study group was formed to perform a cost-benefit analysis of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport. Each year, the city allocates additional funding to the operational budget of the airport when it should be self-sustaining. A group of councilors called for a study to find out if it would be better off for the city to privatize the operations.
"Until recently it seems the airport cost money and that was one of the reasons why the group was formed," said Chairman Tom Sakshaug.
An increase in various fees has been implemented and the study took into account property taxes and capital expenses. In the end, Sakshaug says the airport showed a net positive of $25,628 at the end of 2016.
"Several of the fees have changed and we fully expect based on half year revenues that we should have close to $160,000," Sakshaug reported to the City Council on Tuesday.
The city receives revenue from fees such as fuel flowage, landing, hangars. It brings in money for airport-related leases such as the one Lyon Aviation, the fixed-based operator, pays. Leases and property taxes from Westwood Business Park. And grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.
On the expense side, the city pays for salaries, benefits, maintenance, utilities and a portion of the capital.
Sakshaug said on the operational side, expenses have remained stable. At the lowest, annual expenses were about $169,000 in 2012 and at its peak in 2016 at $199,000. Revenues fluctuated from as low as $91,000 to as high as $107,000. Those operations do run a deficit of most recently $92,000. However, the increased fees are projected to decrease the deficit in the coming year to around $44,000.
But the operational side is just one part of the picture. From the other sources of revenue, $189,000 is estimated to flow into the city from the leases and property taxes.
"That goes straight to the city coffers," Sakshaug said.
Lastly, there is the capital debt. Sakshaug said the city owes $2.1 million in debt, costing about $175,000 a year. Those capital projects include the massive runway expansion project for which the FAA pays the majority of the cost. In the last 10 years, Sakshaug said state and federal agencies put in some $26 million into the airport.
"Through our discussions, votes, and deliberations, we decided that leaving it as a municipal entity is the best way to go," Sakshaug said.
The return for city residents is more than one might think, he added. He said it is estimated that the airport contributes to more than $35 million in regional economic activity.
Despite the net gain, the airport is still looking to be self-sufficient with its operating budget.
"The city is required to maintain a rent and fee structure that makes the airport as self-sustaining as possible while preserving and improving the airport," Airport Manager Gloria Bouillon.
Bouillon has been on the job for about six weeks and has reviewed the numbers. The trends seem to be going up to the airport, particularly when it comes to aircraft based there. She says there are plenty of opportunities to bring in more revenue in the future.
"The waiting list for users is high. We have a waiting list for closed hangars and T-hangars, as well as a high demand for the business-based aircraft," she said.
Adding hangars is one of the recommendations from the study group. But, it recommends waiting for state and federal grants to do so.
"It is something we should always have in mind and if there are revenue sources, we should go for it," Sakshaug said.
The other recommendations include annually reviewing the fees, and fees were increased during this process already. The airport should conduct an audit of video surveillance when installed to ensure proper billing. That one is because there could be planes landing late at night with nobody there to collect it. The group says to review footage, once installed, to see just how many planes are landing, if they are ultimately paying, and whether it is worth having somebody review all of the footage and tracking down the pilots.
The group suggested possibly implementing a livery fee for out of town resorts. That would be if a south country resort has customers flying in and getting picked up, charge the resort a small fee to handle the pickup.
A fuel surcharge is also available, but Sakshaug said that would need to be done in balance with the other fees. It recommends asking the FAA to do a voluntary audit to make sure all of the leases are in order. And it recommends making a presentation to the City Council on an annual basis.
But the biggest helpers to gaining self-sufficiency would be to add hangar space and continue pursuing the installation of a solar field. The solar array is eyed to be a massive driver to the annual operating budget, which erases the deficits in one swoop. Sakshaug said there are four possible vendors for that being interviewed later this month.
Once the airport's operating budget does go into the positive, the study group said the city should create a revolving account to allow the airport to keep that money for various uses so it doesn't have to tap into the city budget for items.
"This will be required by the FAA should the airport have greater revenues than expenditures," Sakshaug said.
Bouillon said there were 35 aircraft based there in 2015 for more than 60 days and there were some 33,000 flights. In 2017, the number of planes increased to 41 and in 2018 expected to rise to 50, with 50,000 flights. That puts the airport back into the numbers it had pre-recession when air travel took a large dip. She added national trends show an increase in air travel as well.
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