What he saw were the aviation-fuel pumps standing alone on the airport’s tarmac. There were no private aircraft being filled with fuel, and there hadn’t been any for most of the day.
“This is the way it is nearly all of the time; very few planes buy fuel here any more,” said the native of Sweden who is president of SkyView, the city of Tracy’s main tenant at the airport.
The reason, Ortenheim said, echoing comments by local pilots, is that aviation fuel at Tracy’s airport costs far more than at most airports in the region.
The diminished sales of fuel at the airport in the past two years is costing him in two ways, explained Ortenheim, who has been in business here since 2007.
“Firstly, I had a number of aircraft owners from the Bay Area who would fly here to have maintenance performed on their planes. And while they were here, they would fill up with fuel, which was cheaper than in the Bay Area,” he said. “Most of the customers no longer come here because of the high price for fuel has eliminated one of the incentives.”
And secondly, Ortenheim continued, the fuel situation is stopping him from making any long-range plans to expand his operation here and instead is forcing him to consider moving his company elsewhere.
“When I say this, I’m not trying to make any threats or play games, but this is just the way the situation is,” he said.
SkyView Aviation, which at one time had manufactured aerobatic planes here, now concentrates on selling and delivering aircraft to destinations around the world. The firm has contracts for deliveries with Beechcraft and Cirrus. Providing maintenance for private planes and operating a flight school for pilots are other phases of the business, which has 11 employees, including two inspectors.
“I’m probably the best customer at the fuel pumps, since local refueling planes used in our flight school is the only feasible option,” the SkyView president said. “But believe me, I don’t like paying a high price for fuel. Again, it’s costing me money.”
Ortenheim, who has 25 years of experience in aviation, said he was asked by the city to bid on a contract to provide fueling service at the airport, but he didn’t consider the city’s requirement to pay a $50,000 minimum annual upfront payment to the city to be reasonable — something he believes is not included in any standard agreement for a fixed-base operator that he knows.
The fact that Steve Stuhmer, owner of Turlock Air Center, which operates the fuel service at the airport, paid his 2013 fee with a $50,000 check from Surland Cos., which is developing a residential subdivision northwest of the airport, confirmed his decision not to make a bid, Otenheimer pointed out.
Stuhmer, who reported last week that the higher fuel costs at the airport reflect wholesale prices he must pay for fuel, is facing an April 1 deadline to pay this year’s fee under the terms of a revised contract that was approved by the City Council last June.
The revised contract is a long-term one, to say the least. It continues for 25 years, from Jan. 1, 2012, to Jan. 1, 2037, and has three 10-year renewal options, bringing the possible duration to 55 years — until 2066.
Why the city would want to enter into a contract of that duration is one of the puzzlements that I and other people have about the airport situation. Ortenheim just shakes his head, and I bet any number of people reading this would have the same reaction.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.