Inyo County hosted two public scoping meetings, in Bishop and Mammoth, as part of the environmental review and initial study which need to occur this year before Bishop Airport can accommodate commercial air service.
The plan is to transfer United’s current service to Mammoth forty minutes south, and have three daily flights, from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver, during the ski season (December 15-April 15) and then have one daily flight from Los Angeles in the summer months.
The Bishop Airport was originally built for military use to accommodate refueling of large military aircraft during World War II. It is equipped to handle commercial aircraft because of its long runways. The County Administrator Officer for Inyo County, Clint Quilter, told the Sheet that improvements to date started with an FAA airport improvement program (AIP) grant to do multiple repair/rehabilitation projects.
Such projects are typically 90% funded by the feds.
Then the Airport improved it’s diagonal runway with money from the Infrastructure Stimulus Project totalling $7.8 million. The Fed paid all of this and Bishop’s was one of two California airports, the other being Santa Rosa, to receive money from this program.
Last week, Inyo County hosted scoping meetings which were, for the most part uneventful. However, certain public comments sparked questions, with Brent Truax, the Managing Director at the Sierra Nevada Resort who served eight years on the board of MLT (Mammoth Lakes Tourism) asking the airport representatives if the timeline for the opening was actually reasonable.
Truax told the Sheet, “The business ramifications (of a deadline not reached) could come back on the other side.” Truax noted that environmental studies (NEPA/CEQA) typically take an average of 50 months to complete. Obviously, if there are no complications with the preliminary environmental assessment, this timeline is way shorter.
Clint Quilter told the Sheet Inyo County wasn’t looking to give itself an extra cushion just to make sure they would meet a deadline. Quilter said he’s working closely with the FAA and all parties believe October is viable as a tentative opening date.
Additionally, Quilter said the deadline was “tight, but we (FAA and Inyo) think that with the turnaround time this is a reasonable timeline.”
Truax did not receive an answer at the meeting and told the Sheet, “I can’t seem to find the answers to my questions.” Truax also mentioned he wanted to see what Inyo had in mind for shuttling people to Mammoth whether that be a permanent shuttle, rental cars, or businesses stepping up and offering extra services. Again he did not get his questions answered.
When the Sheet asked Quilter what the plan was, he said, “People will need to get from point A to point B. We will get all the options analyzed and figure out what works best.”
Quilter felt coming forward with a singular plan was not a good idea until the Environmental Assessment is done but he did note that all the options will be looked at.
The next question for the airport is how will flights be subsidized. Quilter said the amount of subsidy varied, “It all depends, flights, year, type of plane. Where passengers are coming from and going to.”
Currently Mammoth Lakes Tourism subsidizes planes flying into Mammoth-Yosemite airport that don’t draw enough passengers with TBID dollars up to $1.5 million.
The Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, John Urdi, told the Sheet the subsidy in Bishop will be similar to the current structure, “The core to it is the TBID which will be for people flying into Mammoth Lakes,” and the dollar amount will be a, “similar cap to where we are now.”
Quilter reiterated this sentiment, “They (the flights) are going to require subsidies, but the largest portion of that will come from TBID (in Mammoth).”
TBID subsidies can cover tourism coming into Mammoth Lakes specifically. Locals flying home and tourists going to other places will not affect the subsidy amount.
For the tourists going other places, Urdi said, “We will conduct surveys down at the airport and find out the percentage of passengers coming to Mammoth.” Urdi used an example of a TBID cap of $1 million and said if 80% of the total passengers were tourists coming into Mammoth then it would be an $800,000 subsidy.
For now, the airport will be using passenger estimates from people who flew commercial into Mammoth-Yosemite. There should be a marginal shift in the percentage breakdown if the destination is Bishop. Quilter noted it wouldn’t be drastic but there might be more people going to a non-Mammoth destination, possibly more people going to Mt. Whitney portal or some other Eastern Sierra destination. The numbers should stay relatively similar.
So where does the subsidy come from if it is a tourist going somewhere that isn’t Mammoth Lakes? Quilter told the Sheet, “We have money budgeted in a variety of departments. Discretionary dollars are available, but we have to figure out who else is going to be contributing (to the subsidy).”
Inyo County is also talking with the City of Bishop but no money has been officially designated as apart of a ‘commercial travel subsidy fund.’