IYK ramps up filming, military ops

IYK ramps up filming, military opsBy REBECCA NEIPP

News Review Staff Writer

While Inyokern Airport officials continue to leverage a half-million in grant funds into reestablishing commuter air service out of IYK, General Manager Scott Seymour said that he and his staff have had one of the busiest years on record for filming and military support operations.

“This activity has been great in terms of generating revenue for our airport, but I think the real benefit is the positive economic impact bringing hundreds of visitors to the area — some of them for prolonged periods of time — has on the businesses in our valley,” said Seymour.

In addition to the convenience of having a local connection to LAX, the enplanements flying out of IYK also brought in $1 million in FAA entitlements, which was continually invested in infrastructure maintenance and improvements.

When IYK lost air service in 2013, that funding dropped to $150,000 annually. Seymour said that the airport was able to buffer the loss in the first couple of years by putting in a new fuel farm with about $1.4 million in FAA funds — money that IYK did not qualify for as long as commercial service was operating out of the airport.

Seymour said the airport board, staff and consultants have been working diligently to bring back air service, but in that time he has also kicked up efforts to draw customers to IYK.

“Filming has been a staple for the airport since the mid 1980s,” he said. “It’s rare to find a location manager who has not heard of IYK.”

Over the years the airport has attracted countless still, commercial and film shoots. “You can turn on the TV on just about any given week and find a car commercial that was filmed out here,” he said.

One of the most high-profile projects to air recently was a “Star Wars”-themed commercial for the Nissan Rogue.

“If you are standing at the end of Runway 1028 looking west, you can see exactly why film crews come here — you have a 180-degree panorama of the Sierra that makes an awesome backdrop,” he said. “We have these runways that are nice and black, which offers a contrast for a shiny new car.

But if it’s the view that brings them here. “They keep coming back because they know we are film-friendly.” Seymour said that when he took over in 2006, he streamlined the process so that a crew can fill out a permit the same day it works.

“Then of course they like how easy it is to work and get around out here, and they have nice hotels and places to eat. In my 26 years at the airport I’ve heard so many compliments from location managers, producers and even directors who are just blown away by what those of us who live here take for granted every day.”

In the last six months, IYK has collected $71,500 in location fees and hosted a total of 21 days filming with crews that have racked up some 1,076 room nights.

According to a national report to member hoteliers, the average cost of those rooms is about $120 per night — bringing in an estimated $130,000 in revenue since September (another 10 percent of which goes directly into city coffers from the transient occupancy tax).

Market multipliers suggest that for every $1 a visitor spends on lodging, he spends another $2 on food, fuel and other amenities — bringing the total disposable income generated by those visitors to approximately $390,000.

“The best part is that most of these are repeat customers. We’ve filmed thousands of commercials at the airport at this point, and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.”

About a decade ago, the airport developed another significant customer base through the Empire Challenge hosted at China Lake. The months-long event brought together domestic and allied forces in a series of exercises that helped streamline procedures to allow compatibility between a variety of platforms and payloads.

“At the time, we were kind of an overflow installation,” said Sey-mour. “That first year we hosted about 11 aircraft. It just snowballed after that.”

Lt. Cmdr. Jade Buckler of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85 recently spent time at IYK with his reserve squadron, training for Special Operation Forces support.

“Inyokern Airport provided excellent logistical resources for our needs at a reasonable cost,” he said. He said the airport offered excellent access to the China Lake airspace and ranges, as well as ramp and office space for staging operations.

“The flying conditions and geography of the area helps the command meet some of its training objectives,” said Buckler. “It provides a challenging and realistic atmosphere to ensure that we are appropriately trained and ready to conduct our mission when called upon.”

He also lauded local hospitality and eateries. “The community welcomed us, and we appreciate the support.”

Seymour added that these operations generate an even more significant financial impact on IYK and the valley than filming work.

In the last eight months, the airport has sold more than $320,000 in fuel in additional to rental fees collected by IYK.

With a total of more than 4,000 room nights in that same period of time, Seymour said that the same market multipliers indicate an additional $1.2 million spent on hotels, restaurants, car rentals and other amenities by the military groups.

Many of these customers stage operations out of IYK in order to access China Lake ranges, though others are flying into other nearby bases or even using general airspace.

“I’ve lost track of how many world records have been set at Inyokern Airport,” said Seymour.

Dennis Tito, an American engineer and millionaire, will attempt to break records famously attempted by Steve Fossett and Einar Enevoldson in the early 2000s for speed and altitude in sailplane. “Dennis has a pretty interesting history, if you google him.” Among his most famous exploits was paying millions to become the world’s first orbital space tourist.

Another familiar face in the valley is Chip Yates, who started renting a hangar at Inyokern in 2012 to work on his electrically modified Long EZ. Just days after earning his pilot’s license, he broke the world record for speed in an electric airplane on his maiden voyage out of IYK. He would return multiple times over the next year to official establish, and break, his initial records in altitude and speed.

“I believe he’s coming back later this year,” said Seymour. “Some of those records were broken by someone else, and he’s going to come back to try and reclaim them.”

Seymour said that he hopes to continue to capture opportunities. “It’s important for the airport, but I think it’s good for our community as well. Almost everyone who comes out here sees possibilities. There’s room for us to keep growing.

“A lot of people point out that the airport was instrumental in attracting China Lake here in the 1940s. I think Inyokern Airport will also play an important role in building our future.”

Pictured: Commercial crews capture a new vehicle and Lear jet with the Sierra in the background. -- Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2017-03-24