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NASA accused of favoritism at Moffett

Report claims Google benefits from special treatment

Four years after the surprise news that Google executives were allowed to base their private planes at Moffett Federal Airfield, there have not been similar agreements made to use the airfield as officials had promised.

Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page, co-founder Sergey Brin and chairman Eric Schmidt have the special privilege of flying in and out of Moffett Federal Airfield for business and pleasure, including trips to Tahiti, Gavin Newsom's wedding in Montana and the Cannes Film festival. Their growing fleet of aircraft now includes at least one helicopter, two jumbo jets and a fighter jet.

The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has issued a report criticizing Mountain View-based Google's "cozy" relationship with the federal government, using the controversial deal for "AirGoogle" to use Moffett as the most visible example, and calling out NASA for playing favorites with Google on Moffett's airfield.

The report says that the privilege of landing at Moffett has been denied to others who came willing to pay for it, including a non-profit called Humanitarian Air Logistics (HAL).

"It's a sign of the times," said Paul Asmus, president of Palo Alto-based HAL, in an interview with the Voice. "The wealthy get special treatment and the rest of us don't. I'm fighting to create jobs for people, and these people (NASA and Google) sure weren't helping. I wasted a year and a half" trying to base planes at Moffett. The plans would have been used to transport food and supplies to the world's disaster zones, he said.

Since the responsibility was dumped on them several years ago, NASA Ames has struggled to pay the $7 million a year to run the Moffett airfield, even with the $1.3 million a year from the Google executives pay to park their planes there.

"We will act responsibly and aggressively to meet that shortfall," NASA Ames official Steve Zornetzer told the Mountain View City Council in 2007. "There will be other partnerships."

Favoritism at Moffett?

The deal allowing the "Google jets" at Moffett has been called the "ultimate perk" for Silicon Valley executives, many of whom would be happy to pay for the convenience of a runway in the middle of Silicon Valley.

Asmus knows at least one of them. He had partnered with a billionaire, who he would not name, to try to lease space at Moffett. The idea was that Asmus' company would include the billionaire's planes in humanitarian relief efforts when he wasn't using them. Asmus' non-profit and the billionaire would pay for hangar space, like Google's executives, bolstering Ames' shrinking budget. It appeared to be a win-win, but it was not met with enthusiasm by Ames senior officials, Asmus said. And he believes it was because of Google's influence at Moffett.

"They (Google) really run the place," Asmus said. Perhaps for privacy reasons, "Google didn't want anybody else in there."

Google is probably the most prized "industry partner" at Ames, with agreements for Google to help organize NASA's "terabytes and terabytes of data" and provide Google Earth-like applications for other planets. A one-million-square-foot Google campus is slated for the northwest corner of Ames, but has been on hold for several years. It's understood by many that Google's presence significantly boosts the reputation of Ames as the NASA Center of Silicon Valley.

Asmus said that NASA Ames had a plan for what was essentially to be a mini-airport operation for those with private jets, potentially based in Hangar 211. And he says there was no shortage of inquiries from potential users. A "fixed base operator," would provide the various owners of private jets with fuel, a parking space, maintenance areas and other facilities, much like San Jose Jet Center, Inc. does at San Jose airport, Asmus said. The question now is why that didn't happen, and NASA public affairs did not have an answer by the Voice's press time on Wednesday.

Asmus was given numerous reasons it may not be feasible to base his humanitarian airlift operation at the Ames-controlled Moffett airfield, but none seemed to make sense to him. It seemed a natural fit: the site has been designated as a base for emergency response operations by FEMA.

There was plenty of space: the three largest hangars at Moffett were largely vacant, but all would need expensive work to be suitable to house expensive planes.

It made the most sense to use Hangar 211 and the surrounding tarmac for the private jet facilities, but Asmus believes Google executives, who now have Hangar 211 to themselves, probably opposed that idea.

If you were a Google executive, "would you want Microsoft executives in there, would you want the Oracle CEO in there?" Asmus said. "Would you want to be sharing your private little deal in there with these other people?"

Google's public relations department would not address specific questions about the executive's planes, but attacked the credibility of the Consumer Watchdog report.

"This is just the latest in a long list of press stunts from an organization that admits to working closely with our competitors," a Google spokesperson said of California-based Consumer Watchdog.

NASA officials, speaking off the record, said that there were concerns about Asmus' HAL being a "legitimate" company as it had no airplanes or employee at the time. And Zornetzer has said Ames wants only those tenants that can pay "top dollar."

Nevertheless, Asmus was told to go through various processes of getting support from local cities, even speaking to the Mountain View City Council, which the Google executives never had to do. In the end, Asmus said he's never really gotten an explanation as to why NASA officials apparently dropped his request.

While he still hopes to make an agreement for space at Moffett, Asmus said "there are plenty of other hangars and airports out there. I want to go places where I'm welcome."

The Consumer Watchdog report notes that one other airfield tenant was allowed hangar space at Moffett during Asmus' effort: Airship Ventures. Airship Ventures is a for-profit company that has ties to Sergey Brin's friends and family, and is even partly funded and owned by a subsidiary of Google, according to some reports.

Google lease extended

The Google executives' fleet allowed at Moffett now includes two helicopters and six planes, according to the report, including two Gulfstream jets, smaller Boeing 757 and 767 jumbo jets and a small fighter jet called an Alpha Jet. The operation, called H211 LLC, is said to have 40 employees with security clearance at Ames, where the Google executive's planes are stored and maintained in Hangar 211.

In 2007, a reason stated by NASA officials for allowing the Google executives' planes at Moffett was that it would help with NASA's mission. Special data-gathering equipment would be installed on the planes to collect data for NASA's earth science research. H211's lease allows NASA Ames to refuse any H211 request if it does not follow provisions in its agreement, including the placement of scientific instruments on its planes to "regularly collect earth observations." And according to a 2007 memo by NASA Ames director Pete Worden, requests to lease space on the airfield "must undergo a rigorous review process and every request must demonstrate a relationship to NASA missions."

While that equipment had yet to be used on any of the planes by June of 2010, Consumer Watchdog reports that last spring, Ames quietly extended H211's lease to 2014. It was set to expire in 2011.

Denying allegations from bloggers and community members that it was a toy for the Google executives, NASA official Steve Zornetzer said the Alpha Jet was purchased in 2008 expressly for the atmospheric sensors, which could not be placed on the other planes for technical reasons. Although those sensors have been installed, as of June last year, the Alpha Jet had yet to pass NASA's "Airworthiness and Flight Safety Review."

Nevertheless, a NASA spokesperson said that H211 planes had been used for "observational" research, which means cameras and NASA researchers peering out a plane's windows. H211 planes "have provided support for several of NASA's missions starting in 2008 with the Jules Verne mission, the CASIE mission in 2009, and more recently with AJAX," wrote NASA Ames public affairs director John Yembrick in an email.

Zornetzer said in 2007 that partnerships to use the Moffett airfield would happen only if they meet two criteria. The first is that "top dollar" rates be paid by the user, which he said is the case with Google. The second is that the user must "enhance" NASA's mission by outfitting the planes with scientific equipment to gather data from Earth's atmosphere during flights.

Asmus said he was willing to pay the asking price for space, which would have "easily" come to $3.5 million for his operation of at least 12 planes, some of them large cargo planes. And he said he would be more than happy to install atmospheric sensors on his planes, saying it would be feasible, despite an explanation from NASA that H211 had difficulties in getting the FAA to approve the placement of sensors on most of its planes.

In 2007, Ames said it received $4 million a year from airfield users, $1.3 million of which came from Google's H211. Those numbers haven't changed much. Yembrick said in an e-mail that $4.5 million of the cost is now covered by leases. Additional airfield tenants are a wind power company and a second airship company inside Hangar Two.

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Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Copy editor
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 2:52 pm

"there have been not been similar agreements"

Say what?


3 people like this
Posted by Paul Asmus
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm

The comment in the story by an "unnamed NASA official" about our legitimacy is inaccurate and possibly defamatory. The IRS and State of California found Humanitarian Air Logistics to be a "legitimate" company when they approved our nonprofit tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) charity. In my discussions and communications with NASA Ames, having an expensive aircraft just sitting around or paid employees standing by waiting for NASA's blessing was never a prerequisite to being approved to use the airfield.

We were created to help people in need with emergency airlift services both locally and elsewhere. That is a worthy goal which we had hoped the Google founders and CEO would want to participate in when we first approached them and NASA about using Moffett. It seemed to be a logical partnership then and still is now.

Thank you,

Paul Asmus
President & Founder
Humanitarian Air Logistics


3 people like this
Posted by jupiterk
a resident of Gemello
on Jan 28, 2011 at 4:25 pm

One would think the NASA emps who made this deal would have some real basic ethics and common sense, because NASA is funded by American tax payers. It is not irrational to think that they are accountable to the people and act with some conscience. But they don't . They want to get into special treatment with rich people and get some other form of paybacks. I hope they investigate and find out what the paybacks were to these NASA and charge the people whoever involved and convict them. City officials, govt agency officials(aka employees) don't think laws and ethics apply to them.


3 people like this
Posted by SkyKing
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Moffett should be open for GA aircraft. This is the perfect location for GA. By opening up Moffett, the county can close the Palo Alto and Reid-Hillview airport. This will let the county use the land used by those two airports in a manner that actually generates revenue for the county. This is a win/win for everyone.

Let's not stop until Moffett is open for all.


3 people like this
Posted by SFCitizen
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Boeing 757 isn't a jumbo jet. Not even a wide-body.

Boeing 767 is a jumbo maybe.

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm

The Voice should vet their interview subjects first. HAL and Asmus have no money or airplanes, but a track record of whining.

>Earmark applicant’s complaint fuels critics
Passed over for funding, group cites inequities

By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | October 29, 2009

WASHINGTON – They had no track record, no airplanes, no political sponsor, and they missed a deadline for requesting money. So it was hardly surprising that the founders of a nonprofit disaster relief organization were rejected this year when they lobbied for a $20 million earmark in a Senate defense budget.

But the lesson in earmark politics was not over for Paul Asmus, a former aviation executive, and Michael Coker, a veteran pilot from Hawaii.

After being told it was too late to get money for their operation, they were stunned to learn that the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, Daniel Inouye, subsequently approved a $20 million earmark to build the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate, which will rise on the shore of Boston Harbor next to the John F. Kennedy Library.

Contending they were treated unfairly, Asmus and Coker have written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They are accusing Inouye’s staff of unevenly applying earmark procedures by dispersing federal dollars to an institute honoring the late Massachusetts senator without giving their outfit, Humanitarian Air Logistics, what they consider a fair hearing.<

Aviation is full of flakes.


3 people like this
Posted by realStory
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm

The MV Voice should ask what they pay for fuel...

Google gets to buy aviation fuel at the military price which is $3 LESS per gallon. That means that every time they gas up the 767 they save $60,000. How many trips to Hawaii, Tahiti, etc. does it take to pay off the $1.3M rent? They don't pay an airfield tax on components either. Nice deal. I will say though that the aircraft detailer that's there every day does an amazing job polishing the leading edge of the wings.


3 people like this
Posted by agoogler
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Give em hell Paul


3 people like this
Posted by Saejin
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 29, 2011 at 2:15 am

Sweet deal.... Now why in the world would the United States Government give a company like Google (a company with every conceivable bit of detailed information about most everyone and everything in the world) a Sweetheart deal? Why? and How? How did they swing such a deal?


You don't think big brother wants access to the raw Google data base to search for what they want to know, and to preen clear of what ever they do not want outsiders to know?

We lost open, fair, transparent government about the same time as we lost our privacy, secure borders, and National sovereignty .........
....... get over it.... It is not coming back...


3 people like this
Posted by Amanda
a resident of Castro City
on Jan 29, 2011 at 9:28 am

Um, DeBolt's only source of a "sweet deal" is a disgruntled guy who was denied access to use the airfield. That would be like asking a fired employee of the Mountain View Voice what he thinks of your paper. This guy has no planes, employees or assets. It seems reasonable that NASA would want tenants who can pay their rent. This guy wants to use the NASA brand to expand his organization. The article even says that there are other tenants using the field, but not until the end of the article and brushes it over. This is really bad journalism, as there is an obvious preset agenda.


3 people like this
Posted by Kristine
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 30, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Dude, so long as mountain view is making money and attracting business from it I don't see the problem.


3 people like this
Posted by Ned
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 31, 2011 at 6:58 am

Only a homeschooling spouse of a Googler would say such a thing.


3 people like this
Posted by Koa
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 31, 2011 at 9:51 am

You can't grant people access to a non-public government facility just because they are super rich. This is no more fair or legal than letting first class passengers use a shorter government funded and staffed security line at SFO.


3 people like this
Posted by Cuesta Parker
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Google provides thousands of jobs in MV. They put their HQ here. NASA's airfield goes under-used and yet the locals in MV complain about ways NASA comes up to generate cash from the use of that under-used airfield. You people had better be careful or Google might find a new spot elsewhere along 101 - and the Feds might take the airfield away from NASA and give it back to the DOD who would base lots of noisy aircraft there again. I remember those days when the noisy Orion sub chasers took off every 5 minutes ....


3 people like this
Posted by Jon of Wunderman
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 31, 2011 at 3:00 pm


This is so very very sad. Do they realize the security issues of that airfield. Do you really want just anyone having planes and access? Can you imagine what a "evil" plane out of there could do?

Google had government contracts, can get and sustain government security clearance.

While I would like others to get access, access should ONLY be for those working with NASA on projects where relationships already exist.

This is just common sense.


3 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm

NO SWEETHEART DEALS for Google ... however, I also believe that to be considered a viable organization, there SHOULD be employees and equipment for same and that "we are based at Moffett Field" should not be used as a marketing selling point to grow one's business, profit or non-profit ... the idea of turning Moffett into a general-aviation airport (as in commercial passenger jets and jets carrying consumer goods) is idiotic -- Moffett was built when little else was really anywhere close-by and the air traffic effected fewer people ... Mountain View is a very quiet area with the exception of the noise created by a small number of planes using Moffett ... the area around Moffett is no longer empty and the population density of the area should be enough to quash any talk of turning Moffett into yet another commercial airport (do we REALLY need more than the current 3 international airports in the SF bay area???) ... only a pilot could rationalize turning Moffett into an airport for his/her individual benefit at the expense of the quality of life of the great majority of the local population ... what's in it for Mountain View residents besides more noise??? ... "SkyKing" lives in the area and is undoubtedly a pilot himself -- his arguments seem very self-serving and maybe he wants his private plane to be based at Moffett (close to home as he lives in Mountain View), and if he's a commercial pilot, maybe he just doesn't want to have to commute home from the international airports in San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose I for one DON'T WANT the private OR commercial air traffic from Palo Alto and Reid-Hillview to end up at Moffett -- I think that would lead to Moffett becoming a HUGE privately-owned plane airport, leading to HUGE growth in the noise from the present levels ... NO to Moffett allowing ANY privately-owned airplanes, EVEN those of Google executives ... and Google has a "fighter jet"??? Boys-and-their-toys ...


3 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Whisman Station
on Feb 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Moffett has always been noisy. the VECTOR EXHAUST planes ant VTOLS were tested there, along with the P3s that flew out. They never bothered me...

Moffett is PERFECT for ALL GA aircraft, not just the weathy who have cut a sweetheart deal.

The access to the bay makes the runways perfect and we could get rid of the overlapping " inverted wedding cake " zones that people have to deal with flying out of the SFBA. No more Reid-Hillview crashes on Eastridge Mall...no San Jose Airport FBOs. No more East Palo Alo deaths. No more San Carlos drops into the Bay.

Face it, the SFBA is OVERBUILT when it comes to General Aviation operations. Moffett Field is the perfect solution; that is why the RICH PEOPLE have the sweetheart deal....not us " common folk "

P.S. So the RICH FOLK don't want to restore Hangar One? Maybe they don't need to be at Moffett field either.

And THAT is the real issue. the MV/NASA chair warmers got snookered again...but they won't admit it....


3 people like this
Posted by Paul Asmus
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm

In reply to a previous commenter who posted the article from the Boston Globe and ended it by stating that aviation is full of flakes. That individual must be relying on inaccurate information concerning this project. We do have Members of Congress who are working with us and they do consider this project to be worthy.

Having an aircraft in hand was not a requirement to obtaining pre- approval to use Moffett. For example, the Airship company at Moffett had been working with NASA on their entry well before they had their airship in hand -- that is good business sense. As the MV Voice article said (and apparently ignored by the commenter) we had an interested partner with two corporate jets to let us use at Moffett as needed but NASA was not interested because it involved sharing the H211 hangar with the Google folks. NASA Ames wrote me that this was not possible even though the H211/Google lease contemplated such a sharing. The NASA excuse that we did not have aircraft is a shameful ruse.

Although not directly related to this matter, the Boston Globe article about the earmark dispute involving the Kennedy Institute and posted in the previous comments requires a response. It angered the Hawaii constituents of Senator Inouye that he helped get three seperate earmarks in 2010 totaling $32 million for the newly created Institute which didn't even have a building while ignoring his own constituents need for jobs.

As a resident of this area and a citizen of this country, I fully expect our elected officials and federal agencies to follow and enforce the laws and regulations 'equally' regardless of social and economic status. That apparently did not happen at Moffett. Anyone who follows the news will see this is a serious problem in this nation and worldwide. Some may call it whining, I call it holding our officials accountable. The American dream is for all to participate in, not just those with money and political connections.


3 people like this
Posted by huh?
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Fuel? That question should be asked... would not be surprised if they paid a standard rate. NASA is not the benevolent landlord here, they need $ to keep that airfield open, and if they could extract more $ in selling fuel at a local (not military) rate, then they would!


3 people like this
Posted by H Stewart
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2011 at 9:15 am

The Humanitarian Air Logistics easily meets the Obama, DOD, NASA missions, due to Aeronautics Logistics for the WH STEM initative. I see that HAL reaches out to High Schools for partnership, and NASA ARC could have collaborated creating a greater opportunity for building a greater Bay Area environment 'safe havens' and uplifting the community towards Aerospace Sciences.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Whisman Station

on Sep 25, 2017 at 8:49 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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