Mountain View Voice

Opinion - July 23, 2010

Making money for Moffett

When it comes to finding the $7 million a year it needs to operate the airfield at Moffett Field, NASA Ames is between a rock and a president.

On the one hand, the space agency is committed to keeping the runway open for its own use and the occasional stopover by Air Force One. But it seems increasingly clear that the luxury of virtually locking up one of Silicon Valley's largest and most convenient runways for the exclusive use of government aircraft may not be tolerated much longer by President Barack Obama, who has charged all federal agencies to downsize and reduce the federal footprint wherever they can.

As a result, it won't be long until the financial pressure to open Moffett to some outside commercial flights likely will overwhelm any opposition, including that from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and residents of Mountain View and Sunnyvale who happen to live under the airfield's potentially noisy flight path. Eshoo has not yet gone public about the issue, but a staff person in Eshoo's office confirmed last week she is concerned that NASA may give up control of the airfield.

For its part, NASA has been scrambling for several years to cover the $7 million annual tab to keep the field open. The agency may have set a precedent on what comes next when it signed a deal in 2007 with Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who forked over $2.6 million in order to park their private jets at Moffett for two years. Since then, Google has added a two-seater Dornier Alpha Jet to its Boeing 767 and two Gulfstream Vs that now are allowed to fly in and out of Moffett.

This exclusive relationship with Google's executives, whose offices are only minutes away from Moffett, has raised some hackles in Silicon Valley but certainly not caused an uproar. Flight records of the Google jets are not made public, but the planes are rarely seen in the air over Mountain View and neighbors have not complained about the noise, at least not publicly.

In order to pull out of its maintenance responsibilities, NASA would have to declare the airfield surplus or hand it over to another federal agency, like the National Guard. A surplus declaration could give local governments a crack at operating the field, although county airports director Carl Honaker said his agency — once a proponent of opening a cargo-only facility at Moffett — is no longer interested.

Honaker told the Voice that perhaps the best use of the field is to open it up to more arrangements like Google's, which could be attractive to other large Silicon Valley companies. Such arrangements could be lucrative enough to pay for the field's maintenance, without adding thousands of new flights a year over nearby neighborhoods.

By virtue of its central location and easy access to the Bayshore Freeway, Moffett Airfield could grow into a very popular base for corporate jets, particularly small fleets owned by large companies like Cisco and Hewlett-Packard. NASA should start discussions now and hopefully convince Rep. Eshoo to allow this somewhat benign use of the airfield that could take a $7 million a year expense off NASA's books.

Comments

Posted by Myra Orta, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 28, 2010 at 11:24 pm

We are 47 years residents of Los Altos, live in south Los Altos near the Foothill Expressway, St. Joseph area not far from Blossom Valley shopping center. My husband is a retired aeronautical engineer who is a docent at NASA, helping childre learn about space. We live directly over the Moffett Field air path and would be very disturbed by low flying planes taking off and landing at Moffett during the night and early morning. I do not think it is fair to ask people who have built their homes and lived here for decades to put up with the selfish behavior of the inconsiderate owners of small planes who like to fly around for joy rides. The VP's of silicon valley can be like the rest of us and take commercial flights. This area has crowded skys and adding more air traffic is an accident waiting to happen. We have planes from Minetta San Jose Airport, San Franciso Airport, Oakland Airport as well as the small airports at Palo Alto, San Carlos, Reed airport in east San Jose and the occasional flights to and from Moffett. I think it is insane to test the air space with more planes. I suggest Moffett shut down the airfield altogether and make a space museum which would benefit the community and bring in revenue from charging addmission and rent the space for community events. Respectfully submitted, Myra Orta, Los Altos, CA


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