Bay Area airport congestion brings bizjet boom to Monterey

 - May 21, 2008, 6:42 AM

A major expansion of business aircraft facilities at the Monterey (Calif.) Peninsula Airport (MRY) is under way, thanks to growing airport congestion in the San Francisco Bay Area and MRY’s reputation for world-class golf courses. Situated within the city limits of Monterey, 120 mi south of San Francisco, the airport is considered a regional facility and also serves the nearby communities of Carmel, Carmel Valley, Salinas, Watsonville, Marina, Del Rey Oaks and Sand City.

The airport is currently served by Mesa (dba America West Express), American Eagle and SkyWest (dba United Express), which operate a combined total of 72 daily scheduled flights. In addition, some 60,500 general aviation operations took place last year at MRY, of which approximately 65 percent were turbine aircraft. In fact business jets and turboprops now account for about half of the 149 GA aircraft based at the airport.

Improvements for business aviation have been spearheaded by the two full-service FBOs that are on the airport’s southwest side.

Million Air Monterey, in business since early 1998, provides 25,000 sq ft of hangar space for aircraft storage. According to Charlie Brown, vice president and general manager, another 25,000-sq-ft hangar is slated to be opened by the FBO within the next 12 to 18 months. Although negotiations for the new facility are still ongoing with the Monterey Peninsula Airport District, Brown reported that construction should begin by year-end.  The FBO has 16 acres of ramp space, which Brown said can accommodate up to 50 transient business jets. The ramp can also structurally support corporate Boeing 757s.

Currently, Million Air Monterey has nine tenant aircraft, which Brown referred to as “a mix of pistons, turboprops and jets.” A Texaco dealer, the FBO has three above-ground tanks, two of which each hold 25,000 gal of jet-A, while the third stores 12,000 gal of avgas. All fuel is delivered to the aircraft from trucks. Along with its based and transient general aviation customers, the facility handles into-airplane fueling for the airport’s commercial carriers. The Million Air facility is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Maintenance at Million Air Monterey is currently limited to piston aircraft, but this will change when the new facility opens. “We plan to shift the focus of our maintenance, which is now mostly line level, toward turbine aircraft,” said Brown. “While it’s not in our current plan, we could add some modification work, if we’re convinced that the business is there.”

The justification to provide more services to turbine aircraft is based on a growth trend that Brown said has held steady over the past 18 months, even with the current economic situation. Some of that growth in based aircraft has been fueled by the scarcity of space for corporate aircraft at San Jose International Airport, which is about 60 mi away. However, most of the fuel sales have been to transient business aircraft operators, thanks to the Monterey area’s legendary golf courses and world-famous resorts. “Golf is a very big draw for Monterey because of Pebble Beach and the golf tournaments held there,” he said.

Monterey Jet Center

Nate Young, who is president of the Monterey Jet Center, the airport’s other full-service FBO, agreed. “At least 90 percent of the time, golf has something to do with the reason why our corporate customers fly here,” he noted. “Monterey is mainly a resort destination, so with the exception of a few small conventions, almost nobody flies here for a meeting. Every winter we have the AT&T Pro Am Tournament at Pebble Beach, which was also the site of last year’s U.S. Open.”

The Monterey Jet Center, which opened in 1997, is also experiencing an expansion in corporate flying into MRY, and like Million Air it has plans to increase hangar space. “We are going through permit approval to build an additional 40,000-square-foot hangar which we hope to have ready by next March,” Young told AIN. “Pending our permit approval, we expect that we’ll begin construction by August.”

The new hangar, to be used for tenant aircraft, will be in addition to  Monterey Jet Center’s two existing hangars. One 60,000-sq-ft hangar is part of the FBO’s terminal and office complex. The other building provides 20,000 sq ft of space for aircraft storage. Along with the hangars, the FBO has 10 acres of ramp space.

Monterey Jet Center, a Chevron-branded dealer, has a 20,000-gal jet-A storage tank and a 12,000-gal  avgas tank.  Both tanks are above ground, and fuel is dispensed into the aircraft by fuel trucks. The facility is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Although most of the FBO’s tenant aircraft are owned by people in the Monterey area, Young reported that about 25 percent of his 21 tenant aircraft are there because of lack of space in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Those tenant aircraft range in size from a Cessna 172 to a Gulfstream IV.

Since it opened for business, the Monterey Jet Center has experienced 30-percent annual growth in fuel sales. Young said: “I expect that to hold true for this year in spite of the fact that we have seen some fall off in charter flying due to the economy.”

Some of those fuel sales, he noted, can be attributed to MRY’s growing popularity as a West Coast launch point for business jets going to Hawaii, especially from Southern California.

“We are about 150 nautical miles closer to Hawaii than Los Angeles, which is why we are seeing at least several business jets depart for Hawaii each week. Those aircraft are not just Gulfstreams. In fact, there are medevac flights using Learjet 36s.”

Noise Issues

Neither Young nor Million Air’s Brown expect any curbs on business aviation at the airport due to noise issues. MRY has a voluntary curfew which is effective from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. “We have had a handful of noise complaints, mostly from the residents on the north side of the airport, but they usually happen if somebody is flying in here late at night,” Young said. “The truth is that most of the flying here is during the day and into the early evening.”

Brown agreed that the airport and the surrounding community have generally had a good relationship. “There have been some complaints, but not a great many,” he explained. “Operators have been pretty good about observing the curfew.”

Jacquelyn Hulsey, the airport authority’s manager of operations, agreed but pointed out that aircraft which do not meet Stage III noise standards are directed to Salinas Municipal Airport, which is just 12 mi away. Scheduled commercial flights, which run between  5 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., however, are exempt from MRY’s curfew. With the exception of Mesa’s eight daily Canadair Regional Jet trips, all of the commercial flights are operated by turboprops, specifically Embraer Brasilias and Saab 340s.

“To be good neighbors we also ask that all operators of military aircraft and bizliners such as corporate Boeing 727s, put in a prior permission request (PPR) to land here even during non-curfew hours,” said Hulsey. “In this way we can advise them how to fly an approach to minimize noise, and can alert the airport police and fire department in case of a problem.”

Hulsey reported that the airport’s good-neighbor policy has been successful, even though MRY does not have what she called a “formal noise-abatement procedure” filed with the FAA. “I attribute the curfew’s success to a coordinated effort among the pilots, FBOs and airport authority,” she pointed out. “On average, there are about 20 PPRs per week, of which 35 percent are for military aircraft and the remainder for business aircraft.”

In addition to the PPR, the airport authority alerts all general aviation pilots to call ahead before trips to MRY during major events, such as a PGA golf tournament. “During those times we have to plan for aircraft parking requirements, and to anticipate a greater number of noise complaints,” Hulsey said.

Air traffic in the MRY terminal area is under the control of an FAA-manned tower, which is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., with the FAA’s Oakland Air Traffic Control Center responsible for approaches and departures at other hours. The airport offers two parallel runways–150- by 7,600-ft Runway 10R/28L and 60- by 3,500-ft 10L/28R. Runway 10R/28L has ILS and NDB approaches available.

Hulsey noted that because of the planned expansion of the FBOs, the airport authority is expecting an increase in business aircraft operations. Evidence of that, she said, is the fact that in the airport’s just-ended 2001 fiscal year more revenue was generated by business aviation than commercial aviation for the first time since the airport had its first commercial flight in 1920.