A plan to have a private company take over the fixed base operation at Livermore Municipal Airport (LVK) in Livermore, Calif., has hit a snag.
Officials from the neighboring city of Pleasanton are considering suing, say that their counterparts in Livermore should have conducted an environmental assessment prior to awarding the lease to Livermore Air Center LLC, because it could amount to an increase in traffic at the airport — and much of that traffic passes over the city of Pleasanton.
One of the key issues is a proposal to build more hangars at Livermore. Citizens concerned about the lease say that it translates to more business jets at the airport and is a form of airport expansion.
“We don’t call it airport expansion, since it does not affect the airport at large,” said Livermore Airport Manager Leander Hauri. “The City Council authorized us to do research on having a full-service FBO at the airport. The research showed that it was in the city’s and the airport’s best interest to have a private company take over the FBO. The airport staff right now is overwhelmed with taking care of the infrastructure of the airport. This is airport enhancement, not airport expansion.”
LVK sports two parallel runways, 7L/25R, which measures 5,253 feet, and 7R/25L, which measures 2,699 feet. There are about 600 aircraft based at the field, which sees some 175,000 operations annually.
“Over-all, our traffic is down from recent years,” said Hauri, adding that he doesn’t see a change in who runs the FBO as bringing in more traffic.
City officials in Pleasanton have a different view.
“California has the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA for short. It defines what kind of things require environmental analysis,” explained Michael Roush, Pleasanton’s city attorney. “What it says is that if an action is a project, then it requires some type of analysis. A lease is a project. Our concern is that a lease was awarded that fairly well defines what the FBO would provide. The Livermore City Council should have done an environmental analysis first.”
Hauri counters that the City of Livermore’s position is that conducting an environmental review before awarding the bid would have been like putting the airplane before the tug.
“We figured, let them (the lease holder) come up with a plan, then they do the environmental work,” he said. “Right now they are providing the necessary documents and developing a plan. In order to get their building permits they will have to do that work.”
All of the work is still in proposal stages, noted Marilyn Sullivan, marketing director for Livermore Air Center, which also runs Million Air Monterey at Monterey Peninsula Airport (MRY) on the California coast.
“We know what amenities we want to provide, such as wireless Internet, a pilots’ lounge, conference rooms, line service and concierge,” she said.
All that will happen in a building the company plans to construct that will be between 20,000 and 25,000 square feet. “We will not be taking over service at the airport until our building is completed,” Sullivan added.
One of the most visible changes will be the construction of T-hangars.
“There is quite a waiting list for space,” noted Charlie Brown, Livermore Air Center business manager. “We plan to build on approximately 10 acres on the south side of the airport. But for right now we are standing by until the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore sort this issue out. We are in a holding pattern.”
State law gives the city of Pleasanton 180 days from the award of the lease to file a lawsuit, if that is the direction it chooses to go. That time line means something must happen by next month.
“A lawsuit is a last resort,” stressed Roush. “We have sent a letter to the city of Livermore requesting certain information and we will continue to work cooperatively with them. We have people who live near the airport both in the city of Pleasanton and in the city of Livermore who are worried that this lease will have a negative impact on their neighborhoods through increased jet traffic.”
Roush noted that the municipalities have a good working relationship and are currently partnering on a noise study.
The decision to have a private company take over the FBO was economic, says Hauri.
“The private company can do things that the city cannot do because it is not cost-effective for us, like build more hangars,” he said. “Currently there is an eight-year wait for an executive hangar and three years for a T-hangar. The new FBO has leased a space that is 11 acres on the north side of the field. The airport measures 643 acres, so this development is just a drop in the bucket.”
Hauri noted that there are liabilities when a city operates an FBO — which city officials were anxious to eliminate.
“The city has deep pockets, comparatively speaking, so there are things that our risk manager told us that we shouldn’t do, like pump fuel and marshal aircraft,” he said.
Hauri noted that the city was targeted in 1995 when a helicopter that fueled up at the city FBO crashed during an air show, killing one person and seriously injuring two more. The NTSB ruled the crash was caused by faulty fuel gauges and pilot error, yet the city was named “like we should have kept an eye on the fuel gauges in the aircraft,” he said, adding that the city was later expunged from the lawsuit.
When asked if the private-sector FBO would mean the addition of business jets to the airport mix, Hauri replied, “The business jets are already here and they have been for quite some time. They are only 1% of our traffic, though. They can just look forward to better service with someone else running the FBO.”