A Google subsidiary, Planetary Ventures, has been tapped to take over management of the 1,000-acre Moffett Federal Airfield (NUQ) a former U.S. Navy base located four miles from Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.
The airport is the home of Hangar One, built in the 1930s to house the Navy’s 784-foot dirigible U.S.S. Macon. The airport ceased operations as a Naval facility in 1994, turning over management to NASA Ames Research Center. The Navy left Hangar One, as well as several other smaller hangars intact.
Hangar One was threatened with demolition because its construction, particularly the skin of the mammoth building, contained PCBs and other toxins. In response to concerns about toxins, the hangar’s skin was removed in 2012 and the metal frame left uncovered.
On Feb. 9 of this year, the U.S. General Services Administration, which oversees disposal of property that is no longer mission-critical to federal agencies, and NASA named Planetary Ventures the preferred lessee. The lease will put Hangar One to new use and eliminate NASA’s management costs of the airfield.
GSA’s Request For Proposals was issued on behalf of NASA in May 2013, kicking off a competitive process in which the private sector was provided an opportunity to collaborate with the government in the “rehabilitation and adaptive reuse” of Hangar One and management of the airfield through a long-term lease agreement.
As part of the lease agreement, Google must renovate the airfield’s three hangars, including Hangar One. Google also has agreed to upgrade a golf course located next to the airfield.
“We are delighted to move ahead in the selection process and we look forward to working with both GSA and NASA to preserve the heritage of Moffett Federal Airfield,” Google officials said in a prepared statement.
Lenny Siegel, one of the founders of the Save Hangar One committee and the executive director of the Center for Public Oversight, noted that it might be premature to celebrate, saying “I think we’re almost there, but we can’t quite let our guard down.”
Siegel noted that the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board will be asking questions about the management of the groundwater and hazardous materials contamination left over from the Navy’s time at Moffett. “This is a Superfund site,” he said. “The PCBs on Hangar One were covered with a protective coating rather than scraped off, so there is residual contamination. We have to be sure that during construction that the toxins are not released into the environment.”
Another concern, according to Siegel, is a potential increase in air traffic if the airport is opened to the general aviation public. “People have concerns about noise and safety,” he said. “There are also concerns about the relationship between Google and NASA. People are wondering if it is too close.
According to reports in Wired and the San Jose Mercury News, the lease is part of an “expansion binge” on Google’s part.
Google’s presence at the airport goes back to 2008 when Ames Research Center leased 42 acres around the site to Google. Google executives also keep their private jets at Moffett.
Meanwhile, the airport remains open and is home to NASA, law enforcement, the National Guard, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems. It is also the landing site of Air Force One during Presidential visits.