Airport fees gaining altitude

By Julian J. Ramos/Staff Writer

Beginning today, various rates and charges at Santa Maria Public Airport will go up as the Airport District tries to recover costs of operating and maintaining hangars at the facility. To generate more money to cover expenses for a money-losing part of the airport, the Santa Maria Public Airport District Board of Directors has raised hangar rents by an average of 11.8 percent — to be spread out over the next two years in six-month increments.

The new fee structure is based on a flat per-square-foot basis.  Average cost per square foot was about 17 cents — it is now close to 19 cents under a new formula set by the highest per-square-foot rate before the new fees.  For example, over the next two years, the cost of a 940-square-foot hangar will go up $15.08 or 9.2 percent, and a 1,078-square-foot hangar will go up $41.22 or 25.3 percent.

Rents for storage units — located on the ends of hangar buildings — are also going higher, based on square footage.

For the 2010-11 fiscal year, which begins today and runs through June 30, 2011, hangar-area operations are expected to end $54,343 in the red, excluding depreciation.

There are more than 180 hangars on the airport property — 140 T-hangars, eight corporate T-hangars, and 35 corporate hangars.  All are rented on a month-to-month basis, and there is a waiting list for access.

Revenues for the hangar area come solely from hangar storage fees and expenses include utilities, maintenance, and supplies.  Airport General Manager Chris Hastert said the hope is to reduce administrative costs for the hangar area while bringing revenues for the sector up.  “We hopefully meet up somewhere in the middle,” Hastert said of reaching a break-even point in two years.

Hangar rates will go up every six months for two years, with the last hike on Jan. 1, 2012.  Owner-built hangars are not included in the rate changes approved in May.

At the end of the two-year period, the airport will see an estimated $55,960 in new hangar revenues or $13,990 more every six months.

Before the new rate structure, rent for T-hangars — ranging from 870 square feet to 1,078 square feet — were set at $163 per month. Per square foot averages for all hangars varied widely, from just over 15 cents to almost 19 cents.  The previous rates had been in place since July 2008.

Airport board member Ted Eckert, who voted with Carl Engel and Hugh Rafferty in favor of the hangar increases, said this week the new methodology of the hangar fees is easy to understand and logical.  As with any increases, Eckert said, there will always be a few people who are unsatisfied and contest any changes.  However, the decision of the Board to break up the increases over four increments are meant to make the hike less painful, said Eckert, a Board Member for 21 years.

In a down period in the economy is not the time to raise rates, said Director Chuck Damiano, who voted against the hike.  Instead, the airport should focus on belt tightening when it comes to it’s own spending, he said this week.  “(Rate increases) sound more Washington (D.C.) than Santa Maria Airport,” he said.

Director Chuck Adams abstained from voting on the new rates.

Lack of maintenance to the hangars was brought up by public speakers and Board Members during the rates discussion.  A planned preventative-maintenance program is meant to tackle bird and rodent entry to the hangars and other issues before they become more costly, Hastert said. 

Corporate hangars, which are about 2,000 to 3,000 square feet each, house larger planes or multiple small planes, while nesting T-hangars, from 870 square feet to 1,078 square feet, are suitable for one small plane. Corporate T-hangars are about 1,000 to 2,000 square feet.

Santa Maria’s hangar rates typically are among the lowest among Central Coast airports, Hastert said.

On the South Coast, Santa Barbara Airport owns and operates 24 – 1,026-square-foot T-hangars at a rate of $698 a month — about 68 cents per square foot, according to Hazel Johns, Assistant Airport Director.  Santa Maria Airport, also called SMX, is well-known for having “disproportionately” low hangar rates, Johns said.

Beginning Aug. 1, 2010 of the 24 Santa Maria Airport storage unit rates are set to go up.  New rates have been set at about 39 cents per square foot. Under the old rates, per-square-foot costs varied from 15 cents to about 39 cents.  For example, monthly renters of 155-square-foot units will see no change, while 537-square-foot unit holders will see a $127 increase or a 157-percent hike.  The Airport District uses four units for storage while the Federal Aviation Administration has two.

Posted in Local on Thursday, July 1, 2010 9:30 am