Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Watsonville Municipal Airport (KWVI) staffing shake-ups part of bold vision

WATSONVILLE >> The only public airport in Santa Cruz County is slated for a staffing shake-up that includes the creation of a new director position — part of a suite of changes that come as part of a city leaders’ vision to develop the aviation asset into a major economic driver.

At its Aug. 29 meeting, the Watsonville City Council approved the creation of the position of Airport Director to oversee the Watsonville Municipal Airport. The director will manage all airport staff and report directly to the city manager.

Also upcoming for the airport: A new runway lighting system to update the current approach indicators that have been in place since 1976. In the works for the past five years, the council Tuesday accepted a $222,000 federal grant to fund the lighting and accepted a bid for the installation from Royal Electric Company.

Owned by the city, the Watsonville Municipal Airport is the only public airport in Santa Cruz County. It serves about 40 percent of the aviation needs in the Monterey Bay Area, according to data provided on its website. The airport houses more than 300 planes, and its primary business use is for agriculture, according to the site.

The past year has have brought a number of changes to the airport as part of Watsonville City Manager Charles Montoya’s vision of developing the airport — which in recent years has struggled with debt — into one of the city’s major economic drivers.

In December of 2016, the council voted to reclassify the airport from a division of the department of public works to its own department. Tuesday’s staff changes come as part of that restructuring, according to a staff briefing.

In May, the council signed off on a development project to transform one of the airport’s hangars into an aviation-themed destination with a craft brewery, restaurants and outdoor seating.

But not everyone is pleased by the airport’s new flight plan. Knowlton Construction was served an eviction notice in the fall after 50 years of leasing airport property, according to owner Bill Knowlton.

And Granite Construction — one of the largest companies based in Santa Cruz County — announced plans to leave the airport earlier in August after nearly 100 years of use. It now plans to house its aviation operations out of Monterey Regional Airport, according to spokeswoman Jacque Fourchy.

“Our decision to exit the Watsonville airport was not easy given our nearly 100-year history with the airport but is in the best interest of the Company,” Fourchy said in a statement. She did not respond to a request to clarify Granite’s reason for the departure.

The public is invited to explore the airport Saturday at Wings Over Watsonville, an admission-free event featuring free flights for children ages 8 to 17 as well as introductory aircraft and helicopter rides, food, and an opportunity for pilots to showcase their own aircraft.

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