Carol A. Jackson, chief executive officer of Holiday AirTours Inc., said his company plans to build a $3.7 million facility at the Byron Airport but would also purchase the 13,000-acre airport itself if the county is willing to let it go.
“Yeah, we want to purchase the airport so that we can get things done a little bit quicker,” said Jackson, who lives in Oakley. “What happens right now is that bureaucracy kind of slows things down, and if you’re going to put a lot of money into something, then you want to get it up and running.
“Our (initial) proposal is to put a fixed base operation center over at the airport and put a really nice facility out there. Something that has arched hangars, modern equipment … we are also looking to lease and sell aircraft and have a Cessna pilot school. This is all something we want to do (purchase the airport and expand it) for the community.”
Holiday AirTours Inc. is a division of Delaware Corporation, an online company that files limited liability company and incorporation papers for California-based companies.
Jackson, a full-time facilities maintenance manager for a transit company in Livermore, said that while Holiday AirTours is not officially off the ground, an anonymous single investor has agreed to back either the $3.4 million expansion at the airport and/or the entire purchase of the airport. Funding is expected to be received, said Jackson, by the first of the year, although the purchase price of the airport remains unknown.
Keith Freitas, director of airports for the county-owned Buchanan Airfield in Concord as well as the Byron Airport, agreed that an asking price for the 13,000-acre airport would be hard to determine.
“I know that the original purchase price about 15 years ago was around $22 million,” said Freitas. “But the thing that makes it complicated is that there are a lot of stakeholders, including the Board of Supervisors, the state and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). The FAA holds the pink slip and they funded about 90 percent of the project when it was built. It could be less complicated as a long-term lease versus a full-bore sale. I’ve actually never heard of that (an outright sale) happening before.”
Jackson said a master lease plan might be an option.
“Our Plan B is to build the facility even if we can’t buy the airport, and do some kind of lease where we would have the control,” said Jackson. “This is a project that is going to help the county, city, state and communities. We’re the advocates for bringing in new business. Anytime there is an airport in the area, the community grows exponentially and we want to help East County grow in a way it has never seen by bringing in general aviation and commercial jet service, except in a smaller way that would allow corporate services and that kind of thing.”
The Byron Airport, which opened to the public in 1994, records approximately 50,000 operations – take-offs and landings – per year. In 2008, the county broke ground on a $7 million dollar jet facility center.
So far, said Freitas – who brought Holiday AirTours’ proposal before the Aviation Advisory Committee – the response has been lukewarm.
“It has been met with little support, and my guess is that the county has spent a lot of time and forethought to purchase and ultimately expand the county airport,” said Freitas. “It’s a long-term investment that they may not want to give up … I haven’t heard anyone that’s for it.”
But Jackson said the idea has been met with some interest: “I have met with several people from the aviation committee and done some presentations, and the reception of the past several months has been good. We are approaching this as a positive effect that will impact the surrounding communities in a positive way. It will benefit everyone.”
Either way, the process has begun and the next step is putting the proposal before the Airport Committee, comprised of Contra Costa County Supervisors Mary Piepho and Susan Bonilla. If the two supervisors agree the project has merit, it will go before the full Board of Supervisors for consideration.
But even if the supervisors support the concept, it’s still not a sure thing for Jackson and his company. “If it makes it as far as the Board of Supervisors, then it would have to become part of the competitive process, and then anyone could bid on it,” said Freitas. “It’s (the proposed sale) going to end up being a strictly policy decision.”