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Skys the limit for Turlock Airport
airport pic1
Approximately 61 planes occupy the hangers or are tied down at the Turlock Municipal Airport. - photo by BROOKE BORBA / The Journal

Recent economic growth isn't just a boom for business, it's also increasing traffic in — and above —Turlock. The Turlock Municipal Airport has been kept busy as of late, with dozens of planes keeping its lone runway occupied.

Since 1947, the City of Turlock has operated the small airport despite its location within the Merced County line. The airport, located six miles away, is meant to accommodate light aircrafts, general aviation, and agriculturally focused planes. The airport has a single runway which is nearly 3,000 feet long and currently holds 61 planes in hangers and tie-downs.

With the building of the new Blue Diamond facility located in Turlock, and increasing interest in companies such as Medic Alert and Emanuel Medical Center, air travel has been a frequent mode of transportation for business professionals coming to town.

 “It isn’t a cow pasture," said Maryn Pitt, director of economic development, housing and the airport for the City of Turlock. "We are seeing more and more traffic. The day we were doing the groundbreaking on Blue Diamond, it was like a traffic jam out there. Farmers have planes and Blue Diamond’s corporate staff has come down to Turlock bringing customers flying over at the new facility. We know that it is going to be an economic driver at some point.

“It isn’t just Blue Diamond, though,” said Pitt. “People fly in and out of there all the time for meetings at such places as Medic Alert, Emanuel or the university, and we are happy to have them. The more traffic we get, the more the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) sees our airport as a viable operation and can make further investments and basically allocate to us funds.”

In 1999, the City of Turlock implemented an Airport Layout Plan to acquire federal funding by planning multi-year improvements. In June 2000, the City entered into a Facilities Management Agreement with the Turlock Regional Aviation Association, a non-profit operator of the airport.

“The whole idea behind our partnership is that there should be no impact to the City,” said TRAA spokesman Todd Smith. “The City is not exposed to any general funds. We are self-sustaining. We have enough aircraft owners that rent space at the airport to generate the revenue to handle our expenses. We’ve also done a very good job of getting federal grant money to improve our airport.”

From 2001 to 2003, TRAA was awarded five federal grants which totaled approximately $2.2 million. The money provided essential necessities to promote growth, such as a drainage system, fire suppression system, and master electrical system. Improvements were also made for the runway and taxiway.

TRAA also applied and was awarded $280,000 in grant funding for construction drawings that focused on lighting, the runway, and additional drainage improvements.

“It’s amazing what federal dollars can do,” said Smith. “These amenities will attract pilots and people looking to relocate their aircrafts.”

Recently, the Turlock Municipal Airport was awarded $ 2.7 million dollars through a tentative commitment. Pitt says that they intend to make many changes in their submitted funding plan for this year’s improvements, including widen the runway by 50 to 60 feet and also installing an Automatic Weather Operating System for pilots to gain information on local weather updates. A Precision Approach Path Indicator is also expected to be installed to support navigation.

 “I am most excited about our ability to develop some commercial uses that would enhance our traffic,” said Pitt. “We have big companies out here with planes: Foster Farms, Hilmar Cheese and Gallo. The thought that we could get some of those facilities involved in Turlock would be great. We want our airport to add to the many positive aspects of our community that can attract business and industry to Turlock. We look to the airport to become its own economic driver in the near future.”