The General Services Administration is likely to dispose of Moffett Field and Hangar One, making the airfield's future entirely uncertain, according to a series of letters from NASA administrator Charles Bolden released by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo last week.
"It is a good trigger for the stakeholders of Silicon Valley to figure out if they want to have Moffett Field as another airport," said Carl Honaker, a former executive officer for Moffett Field Naval Air Station who is now the director of Santa Clara County Airports.
"I'm speaking on behalf of myself and my history of involvement with that airfield over the last 20 years," he said on Monday.
An airport doesn't necessarily mean Sunnyvale and Mountain View will have a lot more airplanes flying overhead. An airport authority could step in and "use it in pretty much the same way they (NASA) have been using it," Honaker said.
Honaker criticized NASA's leaders for not seeking out such alternatives. Crow's Landing, a small Central Valley airfield that NASA Ames owned in the late 1990s, was given to Stanislaus County in 2000 in a process that took less than a year thanks to special Congressional legislation, Honaker recalled. He says the GSA's process of disposing of the property could take as long as 10 years, jeopardizing Hangar One, a landmark which will soon be reduced to a bare skeleton with no plan to restore it.
"I think NASA should have had this discussion in an open forum with Congressional representatives and community representatives to determine which path should be taken rather than just cutting a deal with the GSA," Honaker said. "That's just poor form."
Under a regional airport authority, Honaker says use of Moffett for "corporate aviation" may be expanded enough to cover the $7 million annual cost of running the airfield which NASA struggles to afford. Private planes owned by Silicon Valley's executives won't always fit in other airports, especially planes as big as the the pair of jumbo jets owned by Google's founders.
NASA currently receives revenue from several leases of the airfield, including at least $1.3 million from the founders of Google, who pay to park a fleet of private planes there. But tenants are limited to those that have a link to NASA's mission. To comply, Google's founders allow their planes to be used by NASA's scientists for research
Honaker said it is unlikely that commercial or cargo flights would need to come in and out of Moffett.
"We don't make anything in Silicon Valley anymore," Honaker said. "It's not like they are busting up the scene looking for a place to put cargo planes."
And there's no shortage of space for commercial flights at the Bay Area's major airports.
"You aren't going to see commercial flights out of Moffett when there are also three other major airports in the Bay Area." Honaker said. "That doesn't make any sense."
On the other hand, there are private airplanes that need a place to stay, Honaker said. And Moffett is a pretty convenient location for many tech executives.
Moffett could also become a home for more lighter-than-air aircraft, says Honaker and Ames director Pete Worden. Moffett's Hangar Two is shared by the world's largest and the world's longest airships, the E-Green Technologies Bullett 580 and the Airship Ventures Zeppelin Eureka, respectively. It also houses a company that is building floating wind turbines.
Honaker said a new Silicon Valley Airport Authority could be formed to run Moffett, along with the other airports in Santa Clara County, including San Jose International. "That's the model that's out there," he said, citing examples in other major metropolitan areas.
He said the county airports division, which runs three small airports in Santa Clara County, would not have the resources or funding to take on Moffett.
It's possible that the military could come back to Moffett and operate it, which would provide for the "secure" airfield preferred by the Air National Guard and local elected officials. But Honaker said it was unlikely, adding that "a lot of airports out there share runways with Air National Guard units."
"The military is not going to come back and operate Moffett," Honaker said. "They had the ability to have the Air Force or the Army take over when the Navy left. Instead, NASA took it."