By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor
The Mojave Air and Space Port is getting close to hiring a director of economic development and aerospace growth and is looking to make other enhancements to improve the experience of tenants at the desert facility and keep Mojave at the cutting edge of aerospace development.
Last Tuesday, General Manager and CEO Stu Witt told the East Kern Airport District Board of Directors that he has interviewed three of four finalists for the economic development position. The new hire will work to promote the airport, develop new business, and provide value-added services for tenants.
Witt said he was very impressed with candidates, saying they all had high quality, depth of experience, and great ideas for how to perform the job. He expects to have a recommendation for the board in April.
Speaking of jobs, Witt mentioned that companies at the airport are looking to fill several hundred positions as they ramp up on programs. The Spaceship Company is conducting a jobs fair in Wichita, Kansas next week to recruit workers.
“It’s ironic that we’re having a recruitment problem in Mojave,” he said, noting that it is a good problem to have.
During the bi-monthly board meeting, officials also discussed purchasing fractional ownership of an aircraft for use by airport officials and tenants. Witt said he had been approached by board members and several companies at the airport who want the service. He said the airport could make money from leasing the jet to tenants who would need it to make trips.
Board members reacted positively to the idea, although they had concerns about liability issues. Dick Rutan noted that the Antelope Valley, which has a population of about 500,000 people, has no commercial airline service, forcing long drives to airports in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Witt told the board he had just received some cost estimates but had not been able to review them before the meeting. He would get back to the board with cost and liability information at the board’s next meeting in two weeks.
The fractional jet proposal is one of a series of initiatives designed to improve the experience of tenants and to keep Mojave at the cutting edge of aerospace innovation. Although the spaceport is thriving as a R&D center, officials are concerned about companies being lured away by other states offering tax incentives and looser regulatory environments. Witt is campaigning to make California more friendly to the emerging commercial space industry, including
Legislation to limit liability as this new industry develops, “Zero G Zero Tax” zones to provide tax incentives for investing in companies involved in space-related activities, tax credits for aerospace job creation, cash incentives, taxpayer-financed infrastructure, and loans to attract and retain this industry.
Airport officials are also working with the Mojave Chamber of Commerce to revitalize the rundown town of Mojave to make it a place where workers at the spaceport would want to live.This idea has attracted the enthusiastic support from employees working of companies with operations in Mojave.
Employees of several firms at the airport also have banded together to create the Mojave Makers, a maker space where people could work on their own projects and get to know each other socially. The airport is providing them with an empty building to renovate.
Witt gave updates on a couple of major infrastructure improvements being planned for the airport. Officials are working to obtain FAA funding to repave and light the shortest of the airport’s three runways. They are also seeking $12 million in federal funding to rebuild and widen one of the airport’s taxiways, which is crumbling. Witt said the the FAA would like to break that project down over three to four years.
Board members also approved the expenditure of $332,824 to purchase a new firetruck to replace outdated equipment, some of which is 35 years old and suffering from reliability problems. Officials expect to take delivery of the vehicle in late March or early April.
Witt said the truck’s arrival will be just in time for a new round of flight tests by the airport’s tenants that is set to begin in April. He did not mention any specific clients. More generally, he noted that several space companies are expecting to do powered flights of their vehicles later this year.