Private aviation is starting to take off at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, where several aircraft service businesses are expanding and new ones are opening their doors.
It's another sign of growth at the county-owned regional airport, which saw daily passenger flights return in 2007 with Alaska Air Group.
There's a 28,000-square-foot hangar complex under construction at the north end of the airport, where KaiserAir is adding space for corporate and private jets.
A new company, Vine Jet, has just opened a 25,000-square-foot hangar, office and terminal complex southeast of the airport's traffic control tower.
And the Santa Rosa airport is in talks with other businesses that want to serve the local aviation market.
“It's really an exciting time at the airport,” said Josh Hochberg, president of Sonoma Jet Center, another company in expansion mode.
The regional airport saw a sharp drop in activity during the economic downturn. Flight operations — takeoffs and landings — plunged 43 percent in just three years, from 128,875 in 2007 to 72,737 in 2010.
“Economy and the cost of fuel had a big impact,” airport manager Jon Stout said.
Last year, flight operations grew 9 percent to 79,269, and they're up another 5 percent so far this year, Stout said.
Alaska's five daily flights account for less than 5 percent of air operations. The rest are private jets, propeller aircraft, helicopters and hot air balloons.
The airport has about two-dozen tenants, including flight schools, car rental agencies, air charter companies, maintenance and repair services, storage facilities and two “fixed-base operators” which provide a full range of aviation services.
Oakland-based KaiserAir is one of the fixed-base operators, with maintenance, repair, fueling, air charter, private terminal and hangar services.
KaiserAir acquired the business from Apex Aviation in 2008 and has been expanding ever since, said manager Glenn Barrett.