Hangars are shown in the distance at the Brawley airport off Ken Bemis Drive in the north end of the city. The little-used Brawley airport earns some of its income from hangar rentals to residents with private planes, according to airport manager Tom Mills. The airport charges $120 to $180 a month and only has four vacancies out of 60 hangar spaces. | JAYSON BARNISKE PHOTOS
BRAWLEY — With a half-century of experience in the airline industry, Brawley Municipal Airport manager Tom Mills works to keep the facility in near-pristine condition despite the recent decline in aerial traffic.
“We are very proud that the airport operates with no
funding from the city of Brawley. The airport always operates in the blue and
is still able to pay for itself,” Mills said.
There is an average of 100 flights in and out of the
Brawley airport each month, he said.
Located in the northern part of the city off Ken Bemis
Drive, the city owns the airport, which funded by several different means.
All airports in California receive funding from an
aviation fuel tax managed by state Department of Transportation and from an
airline ticket tax regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. The
Brawley airport also earns its income with hangar rental fees and aviation-fuel
The fueling station at the Brawley airport charges
pilots for fuel with a credit-card machine that is still operating on a land telephone
line. Soon that device will be upgraded to a wireless Internet connection,
Mills said. The city earns a fee from each gallon of fuel sold at the airport.
Constant maintenance and upgrades are necessary to
keep the Brawley airport in operation.
“The airport is in excellent condition. In the past
few years we have redone the parking ramp, upgraded the taxiway, and improved
the asphalt around the hangars,” he said.
Mills outlined past and future projects at the
“Last year, the airport redid all the lighting for the
entire airport with LED lights that save on electricity and improve visibility
on the ground and from the sky. The next big project for the Brawley airport
will be repaving the runway.”
Mills made sure to give credit to Brawley’s Public
Works Department for actively pursuing funding for the airport.
“To get FAA funding, you have to submit your request five
to seven years before the proposed building date,” Allen Chan of Brawley Public
Works said. “We plan on having funding for the new runway sometime in 2021 or
Many local farmers and businessmen own or pool
resources to own a private plane. The Brawley airport has 60 hangars and only four
vacancies. Hangars in Brawley rent for $120 to $180 a month.
The Brawley airport hosts more privately owned
aircraft than the Imperial airport because it has more hangar space.
Plans at the Brawley airport also include building
larger hangars, which would allow locals to own a larger class of airplane.
“We have plans for executive hangars and an area
dedicated for it, but the airport is waiting for either investors or someone
who wants to rent a larger hangar before building it,” Chan said.
Despite the condition of the airport, aviation traffic
in Brawley has sharply declined in the past decade. Mills attributed the
decline to changes in the agriculture industry. His experience as a crop-duster
pilot gives him a unique insight into the nature of the decline.
“In the ’70s and ’80s there were over 40 local crop-duster
companies. Now there are only 10,” he said.
Mills cited two causes for a decline in the crop-dusting
industry. “Farming has become so efficient with water usage that farmers are
able to grow more produce using less land. This means there is less acreage
that needs to be sprayed.”
The second and even more prominent reason, he said, is
that “modern chemicals are easier on the environment and easier on the insects.
This includes the beneficial insects in the fields. Overall there is less
treatment in the fields because of the new chemicals being used.”
REACH Air Medical Services bases some of its imperial
Valley operations out of the Brawley airport. “REACH keeps a helicopter at the
Brawley airport so they can get to people at Glamis as fast as possible,” Mills
Rain or shine, the
Brawley airport will keep its three flags blowing in the wind guiding local