IYK eligible for $600K fuel farm

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

IYK eligible for $600K fuel farmThe reduced enplanements at Inyokern Airport, and resulting loss of some $850,000 in annual Federal Aviation Administration money, have yielded a potential silver lining, according to CEO Scott Seymour.

“We used to get $1 million a year in FAA entitlement money because our commercial service put us in that bracket,” said Seymour. “When that number dropped below 10,000, that lumped us with other general aviation airports, even though we still have commercial service.”

Seymour said that the cost of flying out of IYK — the highest ticket price in the country — and recent Navy cutbacks have had a dramatic impact on traffic out of Inyokern.

But it also put IYK in a unique situation regarding eligibility for improvement projects. Airlines with commercial service, although they receive additional money for improvements, are not eligible for FAA-installed fuel farms. “The logic is that if we have commercial service, we are selling enough gas to build our own,” said Seymour.

“So I approached the FAA and asked if, now that we are being lumped in the same category as general aviation airports, that meant we qualified for a new fuel farm.”

FAA officials promised to look into it. Last week they responded that Inyokern was indeed eligible — and that the FAA wanted to build a fuel farm this year.

“So the loss from the enplanement issue ended up being a blessing in disguise for us,” said Seymour. “This project is going to cost somewhere between $600,000 and $700,000, and aside from a 10-percent match from the airport, the FAA is going to pay for it.”

Seymour said the timing is perfect since the four underground tanks — each of which hold 12,000 gallons of fuel — are decades old and on the road to obsolescence. “Modern airports all have the above-ground tanks, since the below-ground tanks are so expensive to monitor and maintain.” He added that some of the tanks have already been prohibited at gas stations, and it is only a matter of time before they are banned at airports as well.

“One of the other neat things about this is that it could open up a piece of prime real estate at the airport.” The current fuel farm is located south of the district office. Moving it to a new location will allow the airport to remodel the existing office — now visibly outdated in comparison to the brand-new terminal — into a more state-of-the-art facility.

Seymour added that with the new distinction as a general aviation facility, the airport could be eligible for other kinds of small-airport funding sources.

In the meantime, IYK officials have still been working with United Airlines (which holds the lease on commercial service) and Navy liaisons to explore whether the current ticket prices can be reduced to make the commercial service a more viable option.

“Right now Navy and defense contractors are seeking alternate travel routes, since it is more expensive to rent a car, stay in a hotel and fly out of LAX,” said Seymour. He said that one-way drop-offs to LAX run between 300 and 400 per month — almost the same number of seats lost on flights at the airport.

The proposal for the new fuel farm will be written into revisions of the airport’s current improvement plans, said Seymour. “We still need board approval, but the green light from the FAA is a big deal for us.”

Story First Published: 2013-01-30