Ashley Whitmore began working for the city of Tehachapi as a part-time clerk when she was 23. Now, at 35, she is administrative manager/deputy city clerk and manager of Tehachapi Municipal Airport.
“The city has been extremely supportive and instrumental in my growth as a public servant,” said Whitmore, who spoke at the July 15 meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi. The meeting began at the pilot’s lounge/terminal and included a personal tour of the airport.
Since 2015, she has assisted in the management of the airport, and was officially named airport manager in 2018. The airport is approximately 230 acres and includes the three-acre Airport Industrial Park on North Green, an 80-acre water reclamation area and the nine-acre rodeo grounds. Whitmore is responsible for the leasing and oversight of 83 hangars and for the city’s compliance with all FAA regulations.
“Tehachapi Municipal Airport is a general aviation airport, which is publicly owned,” she said. “We have more amenities than many other general aviation airports.”
The low fuel prices are a significant amenity. The airport sells AV gas for prop airplanes and JetA gas for jets and helicopters. The prices are so good that pilots fly to Tehachapi to fill up. Each tank of the two types of gas holds 6,000 gallons.
She buys half loads of 4,000 gallons every other week or every four weeks, depending on the traffic.
“We sell more in the summer,” she said.
Pilots can tie down their aircraft on the ramp for a transient price of $5 a day or monthly.
“The hangars are full, aside from a few pending sales,” she said. “Hangar ground leases for privately owned hangars are $.062 per sq/ft and hangar rentals for city-owned hangars are $.295 per sq/ft. All hangars must be used primarily for aeronautical purposes.”
Per strict FAA rules, no one is allowed to live in the hangars or to use them for storage.
The tenants include Sierra Technical Services, which has contracts with the Department of Defense to build drones for the military; a company that restores P-51 Mustang engines; the Tehachapi Society of Pilots, which sponsors the Build-a-Plane project for high school students; and the Kern County Fire Department helicopter maintenance team.
The airport also provides parking for Dial-a-Ride and Red Cross vehicles.
The pilot’s lounge provides comfortable chairs for transient flyers.
The Civil Air Patrol Tehachapi Composite Squadron 46 meets at the pilot’s lounge.
Within the airport compound is a jewel of a tree-shaded park that is open to the public but has not been the site of major events this year due to COVID-19. The city provides a portable shower for Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers who camp at Aviator Park in normal years.
For members of the public, Aviator Park is accessible on foot, as the public, for safety reasons, is not allowed to drive within the airport compound. The park-goer enters the pedestrian gate at the pilot’s lounge off North Hayes Street and walks east along the hangars to the park. Visitors might be able to chat along the way with hangar owners who are working on their projects. During major events like the 4th grade Rocket Launch and Cheers for Chairty, a gate closer to the park is opened.
Friends of Tehachapi Airport sponsors a stargazing event at the airport, and on July 4, the city’s fireworks display originates on the north side.
The old empty Benbow Aviation Services building awaiting development is “prime property,” Whitmore said.
Airport history buffs hope to convert the original Kern County Hangar 1, which has a dirt floor, into a museum.
There is one runway, designated 29 for west-bound traffic and 11 for east-bound traffic. Pilots typically take off and land into the wind, making runway 29 the primary of the two.
A segmented circle located mid-field, which is made of white barrels, indicates a left pattern for runway 29 to fly out and a right pattern for runway 11 to fly out.
Airport revenues derive from the fuel sales, cell tower leases on the “rock pile” adjacent to the rodeo grounds, billboards along Highway 58, the reclamation ponds and the ground leases.
Whitmore is a person of many hats. In addition to managing the airport, she currently oversees the city’s front office, the city clerks department and the IT management team. She is a certified municipal clerk and an elections official, meeting with candidates and providing them with essential election information. She does not deal with voter rolls.
“We handle the candidates, the county handles the voters,” she said.
Whitmore’s husband, Darin, is retired as a labor foreman for the studios in Burbank. They have four children, Wyatt, Kenzie, Aidan and Nicole.
Does the airport manager fly?
“Not yet, but I am currently working on ground school,” she said.
The Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi is a service organization dedicated to children. The club meets at noon Wednesday and features interesting speakers. We are meeting at a private home or sites like the airport until our regular restaurant venue reopens for inside dining. Please be our guest. We practice social distancing. Remote attendance is available. Say hello at our Kiwanis Farmers Market booth. Call Kiwanis Interim President Tina Cunningham at 822-4515.