Located just six miles from California’s capital, Sacramento McClellan Airport has had a long history on its way to becoming one of the country’s largest privately-owned airports.
Like many airports, it started out as a U.S. military airfield. Established in 1935, its vintage administration building today exists as the terminal for airport-operated McClellan Jet Services. Initially named Pacific Air Depot and then Sacramento Air Depot, the base served to arm and ship warplanes headed to fight in World War II, as well as to provide maintenance. It became McClellan Air Force Base in 1948 and served as a major aircraft repair and overhaul facility until its closing in 2000 when it was transferred to Sacramento County.
McClellan Jet Services opened its doors as an FBO in September of the following year, just four days after the fateful aerial terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. In 2017, the company’s parent McClellan Business Park negotiated with the county to purchase the entire, nearly-1,200-acre facility.
While some signs of the airport’s former existence and purpose—such as the non-standard military pavement markings—were removed and recently repainted to civil regulations, others remain, such as the runway’s size (10,600 feet long by 200 feet wide). “The little guys can land sideways,” quipped Scott Owens, executive vice president and COO of McClellan Jet Services and Sacramento McClellan Airport. Another telltale indication is the massive fuel farm, which can hold more than 1.2 million gallons of fuel in two 630,000-gallon tanks. The FBO currently only uses one of them and rents the other out to a local fuel transport company for diesel storage. It has a pair of 10,000-gallon jet-A refuelers along with one 7,000-gallon and two 5,000-gallon trucks, one of which arrived new in January. The 40,000-gallon avgas supply is served by a 1,200-gallon and a 1,000-gallon tanker. Other ground service equipment on hand includes one of the few FBO-owned TLD TMX-550 tow tractors in the U.S., capable of moving heavyweight commercial aircraft such as the Airbus A380 or Boeing 747.
The facility has 38.5 acres of ramp, and of the 1 million square feet of hangar space remaining on the airport (down from a peak of 1.5 million), it controls 207,000 sq ft, which can easily accommodate aircraft up to a Boeing 767. Three of the facility’s five hangars can each shelter five large-cabin business jets at the same time. Home to approximately 40 turbine-powered aircraft ranging from a BBJ to a Pilatus PC-12, plus a variety of piston-powered airplanes, the FBO is at full capacity, according to Owens.
“We’re busting at the seams,” he told AIN, adding that they recently had to reclaim some hangar space that was being used for warehousing to make room for additional aircraft storage. “There’s a lot of people that we can’t take.” While there are still hundreds of thousands of square feet of hangar space in play on the airport, it is occupied by “a little bit of everything,” as Owens describes it: private flight departments, maintenance providers, and air ambulance operators, as well as a mix of federal, state and local government flight operations. As the main staging area for the region’s aerial fire-fighting operations, McClellan is home to the world’s largest fire-retardant reload base. “We started that in 2008, and we can do things that nobody else can do there,” said Owens. “They wish like hell they had something like this in Australia right now.”
That government traffic pushes the Shell-branded FBO’s fuel flowage to an average of 3.5 million gallons a year, with peak season running from July through October.
The facility is open 24/7 and its 25 employees undergo NATA Safety 1st line and customer service training. The 12,000-sq-ft, two-story terminal offers a passenger lounge, pilot’s lounge with two snooze rooms, a flight planning area/business center, 25-seat conference room, onsite car rental, and three crew vehicles, as well as tenant offices. While the location sources from several caterers, Class A Catering is its predominant provider.
As a privately-owned, non-tower airport, one of the benefits to McClellan’s customers is its policy of not charging any landing, ramp, or facility fees, making it the only one in the Sacramento-area to eschew such user costs, and while many service providers say their customers come first, Owens has a somewhat different take. “Your employees are always first,” he explained. “If you have employees that are happy and you have a great culture with your group, that’s what makes the difference; and that’s what makes everybody smile and be happy to be there when the customers walk in.”
Currently underway at the airport is a $1 million project to replace the “archaic” electrical vault. “When we are done with the electrical, from the vault all the way out to the approach lights, runway lights and taxiway lights, everything will be upgraded,” said Owens.