In a move that could save Moffett Field's Hangar One, the federal government announced March 1, that it is seeking bids for the restoration and lease of the iconic structure.
According to a "Notice of Intent", a competitive bidding process administered by the General Services Administration will begin this spring to find a tenant for Hangar One, recently stripped by United States Navy contractors down to a painted metal frame in an environmental cleanup. The federal government is also seeking a new manager for Moffett's massive airfield, which would remain under NASA ownership, as would Hangar One.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo's office said in an email that the move was made after a meeting between Eshoo, the General Services Administration, NASA and the White House on Feb. 26.
"It looks like some uncertainty is starting to be erased," in regard to the airfield, said Mountain View Mayor John Inks, adding that there is now "potential for saving Hangar One and residing it."
Last year Eshoo expressed disappointment that NASA had not responded to a proposal from
Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin -- through H211 LLC -- to restore and lease Hangar One as private airplane hangar. The restoration was estimated to cost over $40 million. It appeared that Brin and Page had given up when the executives announced a plan last month to house their fleet of planes at San Jose's Mineta International Airport -- a plan which the San Jose City Council is set to vote on soon.
However, the Google executives are still interested in Hangar One, perhaps in addition to the San Jose airport facility.
"We have a lot of time and effort already invested in H1," said Ken Ambrose, director of H211, in an email on Monday. "(We) will study the RFP very carefully when it is published."
There is also an effort by Save Hagar One Committee members to build an air and space museum in Hangar One, having formed the Air and Space West Educational Foundation. H211 officials had expressed interest in possibly sharing Hangar One with the museum.
Taking over management of the Moffett runways is something Google's founders may also consider.
"The government's statement that it will consider outsourcing management of the airfield is a new wrinkle that we have not studied," Ambrose said. "When the RFP arrives, we will attempt to quantify what this means."
NASA Ames Research Center has complained that every year it covers several million dollars in airfield expenses that are not paid for by users of the runways at Moffett, including the Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing and Lockheed Martin. Last year NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced that entire airfield could be declared excess and given to another government agency.
The notice says the federal government wants to "eliminate NASA's operating and maintenance cost for the airfield."
"While the primary objective is to facilitate the expeditious re-siding of Hangar One, the Government will also consider proposals to manage the Moffett Federal Airfield," the notice says.
"This notice of intent embodies my consistent goals over several years to save Hangar One and to keep Moffett Federal Airfield as a local and Bay Area public safety and national security asset, and home to the 129th Rescue Wing," said Eshoo in a statement.
The Air National Guard at Moffett also welcomed the announcement.
"On behalf of the more than 900 California Air Guardsmen who selflessly serve the Silicon Valley community, as well as their state and nation, words fail to convey our appreciation for Congresswoman Eshoo's steadfast leadership in preventing NASA Headquarters from excessing Moffett Federal Airfield after signing a 50-year lease with the 129th Rescue Wing," said Steven J. Butow, commander of the Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing, in a statement.
"Moffett Federal Airfield will NOT be excessed," Eshoo's office said, addressing concerns raised last year about NASA headquarters push to excess Moffett's airfield and Hangar One to another government agency in a lengthy process, jeopardizing efforts to reuse Hangar One. "It will remain a restricted Federal Airfield and NASA will remain its custodian."
There have been worries in Sunnyvale and Mountain View that the airfield could be opened up to the high traffic of air cargo flights, increasing noise over the cities. But with NASA remaining as the landlord, a limit of 25,000 flights year will remain in place, imposed by an environmental study done for the NASA Research Park in the late 1990s.
Managing the runways could give H211 some certainty that their planes would be able to use the airfield after signing a long-term lease for Hangar One, says Lenny Siegel, who has become familiar with the situation as a Save Hangar One Committee member and board member of the Air and Space West Educational Foundation.
Allowing bids on Hangar One and Moffett Field also deals with a perception that the White House and NASA may have some favoritism for Google and H211.
"NASA Ames was under attack from Sen. (Chuck) Grassley for showing favoritism," Siegel said. "This is a way of dealing with that perception."
"It's conceivable someone else will show up with a plan, but I can't imagine whom," Siegel said.
There are some challenges to leasing Hangar One, including an ongoing battle between NASA and the Navy. The two have not come to an agreement over which is responsible for maintaining the new paint on the hangar's frame, underneath which sits toxic lead paint and PCBs which could not be entirely removed.
"While this is a major step forward toward saving the hangar, potential lessees may be discouraged from putting forward proposals by a letter to the Navy released by the NASA Ames environmental office on Thursday, February 28," said Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, in an email. "NASA finds the Navy's 'removal action' for the hangar incomplete, and (the Navy) refuses to take responsibility for many of the long-term management activities requires to ensure that the hangar is safe."
H211 faces an obstacle as well. NASA's Inspector General has announced an investigation into all NASA Space Act agreements -- including the one H211 uses to operate private planes on the federal airfield -- and whether NASA is receiving "fair and reasonable benefits" from such agreements. H211 pays $1.3 million a year to house its fleet in Moffett's Hangar 211, and has allowed NASA scientists to use the fleet of aircraft -- including a Dornier fighter jet -- for various kinds of research.
Eshoo says the community will be involved in future decisions for Moffett.
"GSA and NASA will work closely with the local community to explain the RFP process and produce the desired outcomes," Eshoo said. "I will continue to work with the agencies and my communities to see this critical process through."