Why do we keep paying consultants to tell us the same thing – we will have to bribe airlines to come here

11 Dec

I finally took airport mangler Sherry Miller up on her offer to drive out to Chico Municipal Airport and check out the DVD from the November 8 “special” airport commission meeting.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2017/11/15/mutineer-sherry-miller-says-i-have-to-make-an-appointment-and-drive-out-to-the-airport-if-i-want-to-see-the-video-she-promised-to-have-on-the-website/

I realized it had been exactly one month since the meeting, and I wondered, why am I doing this? My husband reminded me, this woman said, in two different e-mails, that if we couldn’t make the meeting it would be on video on the website to watch later. When a giant dumper opened up on the night of the meeting, I thought, why drag myself out in that, when I can watch the video in my own house tomorrow. The big meeting room at City Hall is all set up to videotape meetings, the videos of city council meetings are usually available the next day.

But Miller immediately reneged on her promises to have the video loaded onto the website, citing technical problems. When I pressed her about having promised a video she offered me the copy, but told me I had to make an appointment and drive to the airport to get it.

So I ground my teeth all the way across town, with real zeal as we drove out Cohasset Road, which is lined with garbage on either side. That is a pretty vital economic corridor, lots of viable businesses, but you’d never know that given the view from the road – asphalt pitted with potholes and cracks, narrow and broken on the edges, no visible maintenance. Weeds on either side, broken fences – Cohasset Road is the textbook definition of “blight”.  I kept thinking – this is what people like Governor Swarzenegger and Oprah Winfrey saw when they flew into CMA. Is that why President Barack Obama landed in Redding and drove south to view damage from wild fires a few years back?

The airport itself looks like post war Berlin.  Here’s a scene from a great old Jimmy Cagney movie – One, Two Three – with footage of East Berlin from 1961. It actually looks nicer in some parts than Chico Airport.

Empty lots, dotted with weeds, trash, even dumped asphalt and cement chunks. The parking lot next to the terminal, which is supposed to be for “rental fleet vehicles” is un-surfaced and has weeds growing up through the old asphalt. The rental fleet cars fill the “visitor” parking lot in front of the terminal.

There were about half dozen people waiting around the ticket counter inside the terminal. There was talk of “boarding” as I walked toward Miller’s office. So I see the airport is still used for flights, even if there aren’t many people waiting to get on one.  I’m going to guess the rental car business is busier – I know people rent cars here to drive to Sacramento or San Francisco airports.

Miller’s quarters are over to the back corner of the terminal – two rooms, with a small, private office in the back. I could see her through the windows, sitting at her computer, but was greeted by her small dog. She put the dog out into a fenced area when she opened the door for us. I couldn’t help but be jealous – wouldn’t everybody like to take their dog to work, not have to worry about leaving a pet alone all day, have a friend to take your mind off your job once in a while. Must be nice.

There was a sign-out sheet, which I filled out, and then she handed me the DVD. My husband chattered about the dog, which lightened the atmosphere slightly. I forgot to ask if I’d have to make an appointment to turn in the DVD – and then I wondered, does she even come in to the office every day? Any entire days? Or is she only there by appointment?

Must be nice.

I’d asked to have it over the weekend because I knew it would be hard to sit down and watch it over night. When I got home, I realized – it might take a day or so to figure out how to watch it. I had wanted to download it into my computer so I could try to post it on youtube – silly me. The DVD wouldn’t even play in my computer. I fiddled with it for half an hour, and then my husband came up for a snack, and he fiddled with it some more. He got it to work for a few minutes, but when I tried to rewind it a few minutes later, it froze, and continued to do so every time we loaded it. 

I decided to try it in our DVD player. Same thing – a blue screen came up and froze. As with the computer, I just left it and walked away, did some chores. What a morning – I had a batch of dog food on the stove, 10 pounds of frozen chicken parts thawing in the sink, bread dough rising on the counter, and it  was a gorgeous day, so I was trying to catch up on some laundry. 

Tote that barge, and lift that bale!  Somebody’s got to WORK around here!

Patience was it’s own reward as I suddenly heard the sounds of a meeting starting up, chairman’s voice announcing the Pledge, yadda yadda, and then here comes the consultant from Intervistas. The picture reminded me of my grandma’s old tv – snow! So much for the Power Point Presentation.

I don’t know who hired the consultant – Chris Warren – or who paid him – I put that question to Ms. Miller, and I’ll post her answer when/if I get it.

Warren ran through a short recent history of the airlines. He talked about the deregulation of the late ’70’s, and how that resulted in many tiny airlines, all vying for customers, offering crazy deals. He didn’t mention – we had a lot of ugly airline accidents over those days, with poorly maintained planes, overworked pilots and air traffic controllers. 

Then oil prices spiked, he recalled, and things started to fall apart for the airlines. The 80’s and 90’s were an era of “Boom and Bust” for the airlines.

As of 2000, Warren went on, the smaller airlines collapsed, many “logos” disappeared. Bigger airlines went about gobbling up the littler companies, investors came in, making the industry more “stable.”

But that wasn’t  good for smaller community airports, because the smaller airlines weren’t coming in, and the bigger airlines switched from turbo prop engines to jets.

Well, here’s what was going on in Chico at that time.  Our airport was in deficit – the city had been pilfering the airport fund to pay salaries and benefits for non-airport employees. Instead of upgrading the runway to accommodate the new jets, they bottomed out the airport fund on themselves. It got so bad – just a few years ago, city mangler Mark Orme announced we were in danger of losing the fire fighting planes because we hadn’t kept our water tanks up to code. The federal government was going to pull funding that was necessary to keep operations running. 

According to Warren, airlines are putting planes in “bigger markets.” Turbo props are becoming museum pieces for hobby pilots. Too bad for Chico – we don’t have a runway to accommodate nor do we have passengers to fill a jet.  Warren reminded us that the airlines are not going to fly a jet half full. 

I recalled the tiny group that had been in the terminal when I picked up the DVD – I only saw a couple of suitcases. This is the Big Lie – a small group of proponents keep telling us there’s a demand for commercial air service, but there isn’t any. It’s just too easy to drive to Sacramento, where they are light years ahead of us on infrastructure, and leaving us farther behind every day. 

Warren cited a 2014 report in the Wall Street Journal – “Why Small Airports Are In Big Trouble…”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/behind-huntsville-airports-ill-fated-bid-to-boost-service-1396901376

To reverse years of declining traffic and fewer flights, Huntsville International Airport last year decided to offer its few remaining airlines incentives if they enhanced service to the small, northern Alabama city.

The city of Huntsville wrote up a plan to offer up to $5 million to airlines that “added flights, lowered fares, or otherwise encouraged” people to fly out of that airport.

Unfortunately the full article is not available, but there’s my segue – that’s where the consultant was leading the conversation.

Warren said that despite this trend away from smaller airports, there are “tools” the city could use to get commercial service in Chico. The first three are government grant programs – but he as quickly dismissed these avenues because we either wouldn’t qualify or they were a lot of work with little return. 

He cut quickly to the chase, just as the DVD was starting to freeze up on me again – a “revenue guarantee.”

The DVD was so bad at this point, I wouldn’t have understood what he was talking about if a previous consultant hired by the city had not explained the same scam. They want us to guarantee them – sit down – $600,000 in passenger fares, or pay them the difference. 

Again, I’ll say – there were less than half a dozen people at the terminal, and I don’t even know if they all had tickets to board. 

Warren went on to say, these funds can’t come out of the airport fund, they have to come from local government or the private sector. He chirped that if people fly “then the community doesn’t have to pay!”

And then the DVD froze and I gave up. I know he went on in depth about how they could convince the community to get behind this scam. The previous consultant suggested we put staffers in pilot and stewardess uniforms and send them to venues like Farmer’s Market – show people FLYING IS FUN!

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2015/06/25/air_france_flight_447_and_the_safety_paradox_of_airline_automation_on_99.html

 

So I was interested in hearing what this consultant had to pitch, but the DVD was a wash. 

The airport is just another piece in the city’s pending sales tax increase campaign. They are promising unicorns and rainbows when we need better schools and jobs. And, one of the players behind “Jet Chico” is Howard Slater, one of Chico’s biggest old school developers. Here’s my guess – he wants the city of Chico to pay him to develop the airport. 

Now I have to make plans to drive out to the airport to return the dysfunctional DVD. I’ll post whatever answers I get from Miller. 

 

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