Market speaks loudly in new hangar project |

Market speaks loudly in new hangar project

by Terry Burnes

The market seems to have spoken at Minden Tahoe Airport. Are county officials listening?

The July 11 R-C has a picture of the county commissioners and county manager helping break ground for new construction at Pinon Aero Center. It’s been a long wait and what is now happening is a long way from what was planned. In fact, the old promotional illustration of Pinon Aero Center accompanying that article shows nothing like what is now being constructed.

Pinon, like the airport itself, had grand plans back in the boom days, a million square feet of new space for more than 100 large hangars. Pinon’s hangars were to be of tilt-up concrete construction and range from just over 3,000 to upwards of 30,000 square feet each, many with second story offices, rest rooms and other deluxe features. “Upscale” as the promotional material said. And the site plan was illustrated with the numerous business jets that Pinon said it hoped to attract. You don’t park a Piper Cub in a 30,000 square foot hangar.

So, what is actually being built instead? Eight simple metal T-hangars, much like those elsewhere at the airport today, about 1,100 to 1,200 square foot each. Which is as it should be at our modest general aviation airport. Of course none of this means that Pinon has abandoned the rest of its plans should the market change, but it is an indication that the market for the foreseeable future doesn’t support the “jet invasion” that Pinon, and perhaps past county and airport leadership, once envisioned for our airport.

Yet the county’s own plans still call for building what amounts to a second airport east of the runways, to which most soaring and much of the private and sport aviation that predominates at Minden would be relocated. There was a certain logic to that if Pinon’s plans truly represented the desired future of our airport. There would be a corporate “jet” side with a private “sport” side opposite, segregating operations that are often incompatible.

But Pinon’s original plans don’t seem to represent the future of our airport after all. By the time this project is built, sold and occupied it will have been the better part of a decade since Pinon showed up here and we’ll have eight metal T-hangars to show for it.

This means that the county and the airport itself have the opportunity to reconsider their own plans for the airport and bring them into line with the market realities represented by today’s Pinon Aero. While there is “free money” available from the FAA to expand airport infrastructure, the county still has to operate and maintain that infrastructure going forward. Can it afford to do so if actual aviation growth is as modest as Pinon’s current plans indicate? And why spend big bucks to move private and sport aviation to the east if the “corporate” aviation once envisioned for the west side won’t materialize?

Besides, the best way for a community to maintain control of its airport is to match the airport’s physical configuration to the types of operations the community desires. At Minden that should be predominantly smaller, slower, quieter operations that stick to the traditional traffic pattern, not the long straight-in, straight-out operations by jets and the like that have greater potential for disturbing our community. Keeping private and sport aviation on the west side, mixed in with whatever larger aircraft happen to show up, is the best way to do that. Giving larger, faster, noisier aircraft carte blanche by moving sport aviation out of their way is not.

I’ve actually seen signs that the airport is moving away from the philosophy of the past that many found disturbing. Current airport management has placed more emphasis on promoting Minden’s sport aviation attributes. Combine that with the scaling back of Pinon’s plans in the same direction and we would seem to have the basis for a new consensus about the future of our airport.

But to solidify that consensus would require that the county undertake a formal review and revision of our airport master plan to bring it into line with this new reality. Otherwise it leaves open the possibility of a return to past philosophies about what should happen at our airport.

During the campaign a few years ago to repeal the airport weight limit to allow FAA funds to once again flow to Minden, all sides said they favored a modest future for our airport, one that emphasized private and sport aviation. The market now seems to have aligned with that vision, saying that anything else is unrealistic here. The final step would be to align our plans for the airport with that reality, essentially adding public guarantees to those of the current market, which could change at some point.

To Pinon Aero I say, welcome to the private, sport aviation mecca that Minden-Tahoe airport can and should be. And thanks for beginning construction of the type of facilities truly needed and appropriate here. May you sell out quickly and be on to more T-hangars soon. And to our county officials I say, let’s complete the job and bring airport plans into alignment with market realities and the desire of most residents for a “good neighbor” private and sport aviation airport that has no potential to threaten county finances or quality of life. And put past airport controversies to rest once and for all.

Terry Burnes is a Gardnerville resident and retired Bay area planner.