Thursday, June 17, 2021

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Local aviators offer to manage Colusa County Airport

Local pilots and aviation buffs, Colusa County’s most steadfast supporters of the Colusa County Airport, have offered to formally incorporate themselves as a non-profit organization if the county would allow them to manage and operate the county’s only airport. 

The group started talking several months about how to help the county improve the 50-year-old facility, when the Board of Supervisors first announced formalizing the Airport Advisory Committee, removing the airport from the Agriculture Commissioner’s Office, and other management changes.  

The Colusa Airport would not be the only airport in rural counties to be managed by volunteers. The Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association, another local association of pilots and aviation advocates, managed the Sutter County Airport, south of Yuba City. 

“This is really the spirit of altruism,” said Pilot Bill Abel, who pitched the offer to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month. 

Abel said the local pilots – and others interested in preserving the airport – wanted to see if the Board would be interested in the offer before the group took formal action to incorporate. 

The association would essentially lease the airport and asume general management responsibilities, including leases/rentals, security, regulation enforcement, fuel, and building and ground maintenance. 

“In this concept, it’s all volunteer,” Abel said. “No one in this Colusa Pilots Association would receive any compensation. We would all volunteer our time, our equipment, our talents, and our energy to make the airport work.” 

Abel said revenue from the airport has not kept up with expenses, and that the group hopes to stop the bleed. 

There are at least 40 people interested in forming the association, many who are vested in the hobby or aviation business, which helps to assure unwaning interest in keeping the Colusa County Airport viable. 

“You have to have a very significant investment if you want to get into the airplane game,” Abel said. “And if you are in the game you will probably be around for a while. You need an airport and that’s the only one.” 

Abel said the association, once incorporated, would enter into a 10-year lease agreement to collect the revenue and assume the operational costs and general management of the airport. 

The arrangement is similar to that in Sutter County and other rural airports, including Turlock, and it is a growing practice, officials said. 

Colusa County Chief Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler said she spoke with her counterpart in Sutter County and the airport manager, and both reported that the arrangement has worked very well. 

The Board of Supervisors said they would first need input from the FAA before approving a contract, but they conceptually liked the idea of turning over the facility so that the revenue the airport receives can go toward airport improvements rather than staff time (salaries and benefits). 

“I think it is an interesting concept,” said Chairwoman Denise Carter. “This was actually proposed years ago, but right now there is really a resurgence at the airport with a lot of people learning to fly and flying. Right now there is a lot of interest and there’s a great group of people that are involved right now.”

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