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Airport plans taking off
Next project will involve turning abandoned runway into taxiway
Jim McDonald has a can-do attitude. Before the asphalt was even dry on the Porterville Municipal Airport runway, he was already looking to the next big project for the municipal airfield southwest Porterville.
With financial assistance from the Federal Aviation Association, the plan is to convert an abandoned crosswind runway on the southwest side of the grounds into a taxiway which will serve businesses.
This would essentially double the amount of area for prospective businesses to set up shop.
“So, if a business, say a trucking company, wants to come in they can,” McDonald said thinking out loud. “Or if the (Porterville) Air Attack Base needs to expand, they could. There would be room to bring in more equipment or personnel or have an area for training. But all of this is just speculation.”
The abandoned runway is roughly 150 feet wide and 4,000 feet long. It runs parallel with Tea Pot Dome Avenue.
“Right now we are in the beginning of the design phase,” McDonald said. “After the next fire season, we could begin construction.”
The price tag for the improvement is currently at $2 million with an FAA grant covering a large portion. Completion is tentatively set for 2015 but could extend into 2016.
Currently, the crosswind runway is being used as landing area for the large Skycrane helicopter attached to the California Department of Forestry Air Attack Base at the Porterville Airport. The helicopter has spent the majority of the fire season, May to October, elsewhere.
At least one helipad and possibly two is also part of McDonald’s five-year plan — 2013 or 2014, he said. The goal is expand commercial operations, including potentially air ambulance operations and air cargo.
The 2011 rehabilitation of the nearly 6,000 foot main runway cost $1.8 million. The project included an overlay of asphalt with grooves to help with water drainage, new shoulder backing, new pavement markings and striping, and a fog seal.
This came on the heels of major electrical work in 2010, including replacement of all taxiway lighting with LEDs.
The Porterville Airport collects revenue from three major sources: Fuel sales, the leasing of land and activities — takeoffs and landings.
“We have nearly 50,000 activities a year,” McDonald said.
The Porterville Air Attack Base is the airport’s best customer in fuel but this can fluctuate depending on how much the aircraft are used. The Base’s planes saw a lot of action in their coverage area at the start of the fire season but have not gone up as much lately.
“It’s been a relatively slow season, so far, but that could change quickly,” said PAAB Manager Raul Contreras. “If you look at the amount of retardant we’ve used we are getting closer to our average.
“The planes like to fly but when they fly it means that something is burning.”
Contreras said the Base’s relationship with McDonald and the airport is good. As far as the impact of the new taxiway on the Air Attack Base, Contreras said “it doesn’t effect us any” but he did leave the door open should funding be available.
“Yes, there is always that possibility. It all depends on funding,” Contreras said when asked about expanding PAAB once the taxiway is complete. “I see this (taxiway) as another asset for the Airport. It could bring other businesses in, which would be good.”
Home to Businesses
The Porterville Airport is home to several businesses, aviation services and fixed base operations, including the fueling services; aircraft maintenance — Arrow Falcon, Del Air, and Tule River Aero Industries; flight instruction — Leonard Patton, Porterville Flight Academy, and Western Air VIS/PTV Flight School; and charter services — Porterville Aviation.
Tule River Aero Industries recently completed a 34,000 square feet project consisting of hangar area, offices and a lounge that covers 34,000 square feet.
It’s been said that many a deal has been brokered over a cup of coffee at the Airway Cafe.
The Porterville Aire Faire is held annually at the Porterville Airport in early summer.
With all of the changes happening on the grounds of the Airport, there has also been significant growth all around it. The following commercial development is highlighted on the Airport’s website:
- Adjacent to the Airport are Airport Business Park and the West Street Business Park.
- The Tule River Economic Development Corporation is developing land to the West of the Airport.
- Southern California Edison has a Service Center in the business park.
- Two years ago, the Porterville Fair moved to its new location on Tea Pot Dome Avenue southwest of the Airport.
- To the east of the Airport is a large service center for the Porterville Sheltered Workshop.
- To the north, many businesses operate in the Porterville Business Park including Southern California Gas Company, the United States Forest Headquarters for Sequoia National Forest, Gridley Machine Shop, Poly Portables, Endurequest, and ARC.
- To the north, buildings have been recently refurbished to serve Young’s Trucking, a large commercial trucking firm.
Was Army Air Base
The Airport has come a long way since its opening by the Army Air Corps in September of 1942. Then it was operated as the Porterville Army Airfield and used by the United States Air Force 4th Air Force. It was used as a Lemoore Army Airfield training sub-base and for coastal patrols utilizing B-25 aircraft.
In 1946, it became the Porterville Municipal Airport when the U.S. government handed control over to the city.
Since 1959, it has been the “Guardian of the Ancient Sequoias”, serving as an air attack base for both the United States Force Service and CalFire.
To help preserve the history of the Airport, a portion of a hangar is being turned into a museum. Inside it will display photographs and literature that tell the history of the Airport over the years. An open house will be held when it is completed, McDonald said.
With all of the improvements and influx of business around the Airport, McDonald considers it a “jewel in this section of the San Joaquin Valley.”
“There’s a saying that a mile of a road will take you a mile, but a mile of runway will take you anywhere,” McDonald said.