Pilots see ‘slam dunk' in Sutter County Airport takeover
A nonprofit group of local pilots expects to submit a proposal to assume control of the cash-strapped Sutter County Airport on Wednesday.
The Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association could take over day-to-day airport operations by July 1, according to Steve Whitmarsh, board secretary for the nonprofit corporation of pilots.
"Running the airport without costing taxpayers money is the whole idea," Whitmarsh said Saturday.
The seven-member board met on Saturday at City Hall in Yuba City to discuss the planned takeover with the group's 60-plus members, as well as local government officials.
Sutter County Supervisor Jim Whiteaker and Yuba City Mayor John Buckland spoke favorably of the planned takeover.
"I think it's going to be a great partnership for Sutter County," Whiteaker told the group.
The airport, just east of Garden Highway in Yuba City, has struggled with budget deficits for several years. Just last year, county officials projected annual operational deficits of more than $20,000 with no end in sight.
In December, officials approved hikes to lease rates for private businesses who operate at the airport full time.
However, if the Board of Supervisors accepts the pilot group's takeover, those rate hikes would be canceled, Whitmarsh told the Appeal-Democrat on Saturday.
Pilots believe they can operate the airport at a surplus, repay the roughly $72,000 general fund debt associated with government control of the airport and keep costs down for years to come.
The largest expense is payroll for county Public Works employees who maintain the airport.
Whitmarsh said no layoffs would be expected because the county does not have any employees who work directly for the airport.
Under the plan, the pilots would lease the airport from the county for $1 per year and handle day-to-day business.
Sutter County would still be the airport sponsor and any grant-related paperwork for improvement projects with the Federal Aviation Administration would go through the county, Whitmarsh explained, but, otherwise, the county would be out of the airport business.
"In that respect, the county would have some responsibility, but no liability," Whitmarsh said.
It's not known when supervisors will vote on the proposal, but the pilots group believes the board will support the takeover, once a contract can be finalized.
"This is a manageable thing. It's a slam dunk," pilot board member Paul DeMeritt said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."