Google Execs' Jet Fleet Could Head to San Jose Airport as $82 Million General Aviation Facility
February 7, 2013
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  • By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein

    Now arriving at Mineta San Jose International Airport: The Google fleet.

    In a blockbuster development proposal, a joint venture of Signature Flight Support and Blue City Holdings San Jose LLC, an entity connected to Google Inc. principals, wants to build a 29-acre, $82 million aviation facility on a parking lot on the west side of Mineta San Jose International Airport, according to a city memo.

    The privately funded facility would house and serve the personal airplanes of Google executives, and other private and corporate aircraft, under a 50-year lease agreement. The deal would bring in big bucks for the airport — about $130 million over the life of the lease.

    Blue City Holdings operates a fleet of planes that are the private aircraft of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and the company’s chairman, Eric Schmidt. Airport Spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes emphasized the Google element of the project is just part of the development, which will also serve private aircraft. The project could attract more corporate users to the airport.

    “It’s exciting that they were able to attract (Blue City) as one of their clients,” she said, adding it wasn’t the only element.

    “The beauty of this is a private developer is coming in to design and construct these facilities to support general aviation at the airport,” she said.

    The Google executives currently operate a fleet of private planes out of the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field under the auspices of a company called H211 LLC, but the company’s deal with NASA has not been all smooth sailing. It is believed that those planes would move to San Jose, Barnes said.

    Aviation director Bill Sherry details the joint venture’s proposal in a memo issued Feb. 5, six months after opening the area up for development proposals that would add private aviation capacity and generate much-needed funding. Signature will construct the project.

    “Signature proposes to construct a full-service, world-class fixed base operation in partnership with Blue City Holdings San Jose LLC (BCHSJ), a corporation representing the personal aircraft of the principals at Google, headquartered in Mountain View, CA,” the memo reads.

    The San Jose project will include an executive terminal, hangars, ramp space “accommodating the largest business jets” and aircraft servicing facilities. The memo states that the project would be able to handle Boeing 737s and 767s. The development will include more than 270,000 square feet of LEED Gold facilities. (View a slideshow of what the facility could look like.)

    The memo states that the Signature bid beat out proposals from Atlantic Aviation and Ross Aviation, which didn’t meet the airport’s standards. Signature Flight Support is the world’s largest FBO and distribution network for business aviation services and has a nearby facility in San Francisco. The company offers fueling, hangar and office rentals, ground handling, maintenance and crew and passenger amenities, according to its website.

    “Signature Flight Support is proud to be chosen as the successful bidder for the West Side Development project at the Mineta San Jose International Airport to build a state of the art, world-class (fixed base operation) that will serve as a key location in Signature Flight Support’s global network,” Maria Sastre, president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

    “We are proud to bring all of the resources that Signature Flight Support can offer to further business and general aviation as well as our long standing track record of good corporate citizenship to the San Jose and Silicon Valley communities.”

    Google connection aside, the project could be a win for the San Jose airport and private aircraft users. Boosting general aviation service has been a major priority of airport leaders to increase revenue and serve demand. The memo states that Signature will provide $2.6 million annually in rent. That doesn’t include guaranteed fees of $470,000 a year, 36 permanent on-airport jobs, and up to 200 construction jobs.

    The income would be a boon as SJC looks to pay off debt associated with a $1.3 billion upgrade to its commercial facilities. The total estimated rent over the lease term is $130 million. The rent would be set at $2.06 a square foot, adjusted annually for inflation.

    “Fixed base operators” lease airfield space and provide maintenance, fueling and other services to private planes. Plano, Texas-based Atlantic Aviation is the largest FBO at SJC, which operates on 22 acres. Hewlett-Packard is the only private company that has its own facility there.

    The proposed facility is a bit further from Google’s Mountain View headquarters than Moffett Field, but could come with fewer headaches. The Google execs wanted to pay the $40 million restoration cost for the historic Hangar One at Moffett after its contaminated siding was taken off by Navy contractors and the structure was left with its skeleton exposed. In return, H211 would park its planes inside a portion of the hangar. But the company apparently got nowhere with the deal, and H211’s current lease comes due in July 2014. That lease has also attracted attention in the past, not all positive.

    Signature’s proposal includes a 17,000 square foot terminal, 240,000-square-feet of hangar space, and a 24,000-square-foot shop area.

    There are also a host of other sweeteners, including a $200,000 dedicated marketing budget to promote SJC, space in the executive terminal for an extension of The Tech Museum, and use of one 30,000-square-foot hangar by the city for up to 14 days “during a disaster or quarantine event” at no charge.

    The project must still be approved by the San Jose City Council in April.

    This is the latest piece of big news for the airport, which this week saw the announcement that Virgin America would begin service to Los Angeles. Delta Air Lines also announced it would add service on that same route.