Looking at the numbers, Tehachapi Municipal Airport appears to be a failing business.
But city officials are not alarmed by the red ink because they see promise in continued development of the airport as part of Tehachapi's economic development.
According to the 2013/2014 fiscal year budget numbers and some additional history from City Finance Director Hannah Chung, the airport is roughly $1.3 million in debt to the city's general fund -- a deficit which has been snowballing for seven years.
The airport's sources of revenue include fuel sales and leases of hangars, billboards and the rodeo grounds. Topping its list of expenses are fuel purchases, followed by personnel costs, operating expenses and capital purchases.
"It costs us about $200,000 annually more than we bring in to operate the airport," City Manager Greg Garrett said. "But we understand the positive economic [benefits]."
"It's hard to put your thumb on it," Aiport Manager Tom Glasgow said, speaking of the economic impact the airport makes in Tehachapi.
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Glasgow explained how transient pilots will tie down at the airport - for a small fee -- and walk a short few blocks to visit Downtown Tehachapi businesses, especially local restaurants. He said the exact benefits garnered from such situations are essentially impossible to quantify.
Although solid proof is hard to come by, Garrett said the city recognizes the airport as a very valuable asset and will continue to protect and foster it as such.
"We understand the value of what it takes to own and operate an airport," Garrett said. "So we have a 100 percent commitment there to start."
Some in the aviation community have recently questioned the city's commitment to the airport. Besides the controversy surrounding the alcohol ban in Aviator Park, a request to update the airport's Master Plan and Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan was presented by airport business owner Ken Hetge to the City Council at its meeting July 1.
Citing the number of businesses and "for sale" signs cropping up on land surrounding airport property, Hetge said, "striking a balance between community development and airport protection is essential to long-term success... [The ALUCP] is essential in guiding community growth and the ongoing viability of our airport."
The plan is tentatively slated to be updated in 2018, but Hetge fears a "multitude of complications" if put off for that long.
While it is true that construction and new businesses are alive and well on the land that can be seen from the tarmac, city officials emphasize their diligence in protecting what is perhaps the town's most expensive asset.
"Wouldn't it be asinine to think that on one hand, we're spending $200,000 more than we bring in, to the tune of millions of dollars over the last couple years, and on the other hand allow someone to compromise that asset," Garrett said. "It's just not logical. The common sense is just not there."
"Our airport hasn't gotten any smaller and it hasn't gotten any larger," Glasgow said in a later interview. "It holds ground there, what we have for the Land Use Compatibility Plan."
Officials said the ALUCP and other guidelines can be seen as a bubble surrounding the airport, and even though buildings, wind turbines and other structures come closer and closer to the bubble, they are still outside of the boundary.
"We will not allow anyone to penetrate the bubble," Garrett said. "We won't have it."
As an example, Glasgow cited the pending construction of a new motel near the airport. He said in the original plan, a corner of the structure penetrated one of the "stricter zones" and the city refused to certify it.
"But even if we did allow it to happen, the FAA still would have been OK with it, they would have just put a light or a flag on it," Glasgow said. "But we went a step further and we made sure it was not."
Garrett cited much larger airports to draw a contrast with Tehachapi's relatively wide-open spaces.
"Last time you were in L.A. I think you saw airplanes landing everywhere," the city manager said. "What's around those airports? Everything."
Going a step further, he said businesses like hotels and restaurants are what helps promote growth in the city, making it more attractive, and therefore, theoretically, bringing in more air traffic, with which comes more revenue to the airport.
Garrett, Glasgow and Chung made it clear in interviews that the city continues to invest funds in the airport because it is dedicated to the asset's growth. Glasgow said one of his goals as airport manager is to help make the airport "self-sustaining" and profitable to the city.
That is why the City Council continues to approve funds to update and maintain the airport grounds. Most of the approved funds are called "matching" funds, because they represent a small amount -- usually around 10 percent -- of the project cost. Matching funds are usually required to obtain a grant to cover the remainder of the project cost.
The most recent approval of funds was for an instrument approach system. In his presentation to the City Council, Glasgow outlined benefits of the procedure, including additional safety levels of markings and lighting, and a more safe alternative to access the airport in marginal weather.
Glasgow said the outdated aiming points on the runway will be removed as part of the project. The tarmac will also be striped along the edges and some of the lighting will be converted from posts to in-ground.
The project is estimated to cost $230,000; the City Council approved $25,000 in matching funds on July 15.
Other improvement projects on the horizon include an improved drainage system, relocating the taxiway slightly and some repaving.
"We have a plan for the airport, just like we have a plan for the City of Tehachapi," Garrett said.