FBO Profile: Livermore Municipal Airport

 - September 15, 2006, 10:41 AM

Livermore Municipal Airport is one of those facilities where the city that owns the airport keeps the FBO operation to itself. For a potentially important airport such as Livermore, a designated reliever for San Francisco Bay Area airports and located at the edge of some of the busiest airspace in California, this facility is surprisingly undeveloped.

The City of Livermore, which runs the sole FBO on the airport, holds the dubious distinction of earning the lowest score in AIN’s 2006 FBO Survey. With
an overall average of 3.732, Livermore ranked nearly 50 percent lower than FBOs at Bay Area airports San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco.

AIN readers must be using Livermore, or it wouldn’t have received sufficient votes to be included. But whoever does use Livermore didn’t explain the reasons for their dissatisfaction: AIN received no comments about Livermore from respondents.

While it might be surprising to come across an airport in a major metropolitan area where the FBO is run by the city that owns the airport, this isn’t unusual. Some cities apparently find the lure of dollar-a-gallon markups on fuel irresistible, not realizing that they could make more money with less effort by letting FBOs have the fuel concession and charging them a hefty upflow fee, as well as land-lease fees.

Livermore Municipal Air-port is in a good location, next to a major freeway (580) that delivers thousands of commuters to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area and is a main artery into the fertile Central Valley. The Tri-Valley area near Livermore has grown as the Bay Area has become more crowded. High-tech companies are moving into the Tri-Valley, and long-time tenants include research facilities Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

Before 9/11, operations at Livermore exceeded 250,000 per year, but that number has dropped to an average of 180,000, according to Leander Hauri, airport manager. Annual fuel volume averages 900,000 gallons a year, split 60/40 between jet-A and avgas. There are only five jets based at Livermore, but  there are many single- and twin-engine turboprops. The airport is home to 393 hangars, all of which are full and have long waiting lists. Livermore’s 5,253-foot primary runway is large enough for most jets, although there is a 12,500-pound single-wheel weight limit.

Hauri is well aware of the limitations of a city-owned FBO. “We’re the sole FBO on the field,” he said, “which is not good. We can’t do as good a job as a private entity.”

Although some local citizens would like to see the airport disappear, that isn’t going to happen. “We’ve got [FAA] grant assurances in perpetuity,” Hauri said, which means that the city is obligated to keep the airport open. The number of noise complaints has increased in recent years, he added, despite a non-residential buffer zone that protects the airport from the wrong kind of nearby development. Hauri said the airport is planning to install a noise-monitoring system, and he is seeking funding to pay for it.

A recent airport master plan that proposed lengthening the shorter parallel runway was not well received by local residents. That plan is now on hold, but Hauri is hoping that the city will support a new plan to open Livermore Airport to private development.

“It’s almost a necessity,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can, but maintenance on hangars is falling behind because we are busier and busier with fuel. We shouldn’t be in the fuel business. That’s something that private industry does better.” Hauri would rather collect a fuel flowage fee from FBOs than have his team pump the fuel, which would leave more time to take care of the airport’s infrastructure. He also wants a private company to build new hangars to accommodate more business jets.

Hauri said that a lot of investors and FBO chains have expressed interest in Livermore. The key is to persuade the city council that allowing private development on the airport will benefit the community. “This is the only airport in the immediate Bay Area that has land available for development,” he said. On the north side of the airport, seven to 10 acres are available for FBOs, and there are 42 acres of developable land on the airport. ““If the council approves it, this will be the jewel of the Bay Area.” The airport is also an important staging area for disaster relief.

Hauri doesn’t know if the Livermore city council will approve changes to the airport allowing development of private FBOs, but he is hoping to have some news, possibly by October.