Friday, March 31, 2017
At small Bay Area airports, appetite for travel boosts growth
Smaller Bay Area airports reap benefits of stronger economy
Places such as Buchanan Field and Hayward Executive Airport have reported being busier with many fliers using facilities to avoid long waits at SFO, Oakland airport and San Jose airport.
By Annie Sciacca
The San Jose (CA) Mercury News
Planes wait for clearance to takeoff at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. With the uptick in the economy, smaller airports could see an increase in passenger traffic to and from their airports.
Chris Thrasher, a Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilot, prepares an airplane for cross country flight instruction for the unseen pilot of the plane, at San Carlos Airport in San Carlos, Calif. on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.
A plane takes off at the San Carlos Airport in San Carlos, Calif. on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.
The Bay Area’s large commercial airports aren’t the only ones thriving during the economic resurgence of recent years. The uptick in business and leisure travel is also driving growth at smaller, regional facilities that are geared toward corporate, charter and private air service.
At the Hayward Executive Airport, for example, airport leaders say the central location between the rest of the East Bay and Silicon Valley has made their facility a prime spot for corporations and executives to fly to and from on private or chartered planes. Commercial service returned to Concord’s Buchanan Field last year for the first time since 1992 with flights to Southern California and Las Vegas, and San Mateo County’s San Carlos and Half Moon Bay airports are seeing strong demand for their charter services amid the booming Silicon Valley economy.
Robert W. Mann Jr., the principal of airline industry analysis and consulting firm R.W. Mann & Co., said scheduled flights have actually decreased at smaller airports in recent years, as a result of the consolidation in the airline industry. But in an affluent region like the Bay Area, chartered flights or private flying have become an attractive option for those who resent the length and intrusiveness of security screening at large airports.
“For high time-value individuals, it’s not only a waste of their time, it’s unproductive, it’s a negative utility, and it’s inconvenient,” Mann said of the security at major airports. More technology has been developed to make chartering flights easier than ever, including so-called “on-demand” jet charters (think Uber for planes).
At the Hayward airport, companies including AO Sky and CTP Aviation offer charter services, while others, like NetJets, offer timeshares and leasing for jets, leaving more options than ever for executive travel.
While the number of aircraft operations (takeoffs and landings) can fluctuate throughout the year because of bad weather or other factors, it has increased overall at the Hayward airport since the recession, said airport manager Doug McNeeley. In 2016, the airport saw 108,680 takeoffs and landings, up from 83,275 in 2012.
“My sense is that the overall Bay Area economy is driving a lot of the increased air traffic,” McNeeley said. “On the recreational side, it means more disposable income — people can realize their dreams to become pilots and fly privately. For businesses, they see an increased need to travel for a variety of reasons — some businesses are expanding or have big projects internationally.”
Similarly, aircraft operations at Buchanan Field increased from 78,000 lift-offs and landings annually to more than 109,000 from 2012 to 2015. As of November 2016, the latest available data, there had been 113,000 take-offs and landings at the airport since the same time the previous year.
For Gary Oberti, owner of Oberti Wholesale Foods in San Leandro, choosing to fly out of Hayward airport is all about efficiency.
“It’s location, location, location,” he said of the airport, which is about 10 minutes from where he works. He owns an aircraft that is parked at Hayward and uses it to fly about once or twice a week for both business and leisure.
He still flies commercially out of San Francisco International Airport on occasion, particularly if there is bad weather and it is dangerous to fly the smaller aircraft. But flying out of that airport takes him twice the time as flying from Hayward, where there is no long security line or waiting for boarding.
Some aviation companies are trying to make quicker travel a reality for those who do not have their own planes, and that’s prompting more use of smaller airports.
JetSuite, a charter plane company, last year launched an additional commercial JetSuiteX service, a scheduled-charter service program in which travelers can buy a seat on their 30-seat planes instead of chartering a whole jet, at Concord’s Buchanan Field. Like its Hayward counterpart, the Concord airport supports mostly private or charter aviation companies.
The air service from JetSuite, which includes three round-trip flights to Burbank Bob Hope Airport every weekday and weekend service to Las Vegas, has been “massively popular,” said JetSuite CEO Alex Wilcox. The service has also launched flights from Mineta San Jose International Airport to Bozeman, Montana, and Wilcox said the company is looking at adding more flights to the Bay Area.
Gretchen Kelly, airport manager for San Mateo County’s airports in San Carlos and Half Moon Bay, said that although total aircraft operations are slightly down, there has been an increase in charter operations, a sign of the flourishing economy.
“Charter operations and general aviation is really economy driven,” Kelly said. “We’re very much location driven at both San Carlos and Half Moon Bay. We’re the closest general aviation airport to San Francisco, right here in the peninsula. So it’s a great location for doing business.”
The increase in air travel also is prompting expansion projects at some airports.
The Hayward airport has had multiple developments lately, including a new operation from APP Jet Center, an aviation company that manages airport real estate and offers support services like fueling, hangaring and parking for jet and airplane owners and operators. In December, aviation company Meridian, which specializes in aircraft management, also opened a new hangar and base at the airport.
The rise in the use of these smaller airports isn’t hurting the region’s larger airports, however. Oakland International Airport saw about 12.1 million passengers fly to or out of Oakland in 2016, a 7.7 percent increase over 2015’s count of 11.2 million. Upcoming flights will bring the airport’s number of nonstop routes to 62 — the most it has ever had — and the airport has been working on a $35 million expansion to its international arrivals building that will double international flight capacity.
Mineta San Jose International Airport saw its passenger traffic increase 10.2 percent in 2016, marking four consecutive years of growth. The airport served 10.8 million departing and arriving passengers in 2016, an increase of nearly 1 million more customers over the previous year.
At least for now, the good times seem poised to continue for the Bay Area’s small and large airports alike.
“The Bay Area, from an income perspective and business demand perspective, is a hot spot for this activity,” Mann said.