By Laura Urseny, Chico Enterprise-Record
POSTED: 08/06/16, 10:10 PM PDT
Sherry Miller, the new Chico Municipal Airport manager.Bill Husa —Enterprise-Record
Chico >> With less than a month on the job, Sherry Miller knows how much she has to do.
Reminding the new Chico Municipal Airport manager are an array of yellow legal pads, federal regulation bibles, a thick notebook calendar and her cellphone dotting her desk.
And this isn’t even her official office.
Before the next month is out, she’ll be situated in her permanent place on the other side of the airport terminal, with windowed walls facing the airport runways.
It’s been 11 years since someone has worn the hat of airport manager for Chico, even though the airport has belonged to the city since just after World War II. City managers have borne airport duties in general, but there was a titled manager for a few years. His job was cut.
Miller’s employment and the city’s move to secure a full-time airport maintenance person shows dedication to the airport’s future, she believes. And she’s ready.
Not to say the airport has been neglected, but there’s a lot of work to do, which she outlined for the Airport Commission at last month’s meeting.
One of her top priorities is exploring the return of commercial passenger service, but she’s not casting blindly to find an airline to fill the gap in Chico. She wants to see an aviation demand forecast done, and has recommended the process to the Airport Commission and city.
Results from that study should show definitively if commercial service will be successful and profitable in Chico, information that any potential airlines wants to see.
“You don’t just pick up the phone and call an airline,” she said.
While Miller has inherited the information the city received from airport consultant AvPORTS, it’s not as detailed as the demand forecast can provide, she said.
NOT THE FIRST
Chico is not Miller’s first airport post. For roughly 30 years, she’s worked at airports for private aviation businesses, in security, in aviation education, and in assistant management positions. She was a manager of an eight-airport system in San Diego County, one of which had commercial air service. The 11 airports she’s been at also include Honolulu and Oxford, England.
Miller came to Chico from the airport in South Lake Tahoe, where she had been the director since 2009. Tahoe had commercial air service but lost it before Miller came on board. However, her role was key in helping the airport keep the federal commercial service certification for a number of years in hopes an airlines would be interested. A demand forecast study showed there was no hope for service there, she said.
She is also president of the Association of California Airports.
Even though Chico has been without an airport manager for many years and without air service for more than a year and a half, it has taken great pains to maintain its commercial service certification.“It’s daily stuff you have to do,” said Miller, like checking the runways among hundreds of other tasks.
Miller has known she would work in aviation nearly since her first flight, at age 4. Her father was a tech rep to aviation mechanics, and she started flying lessons when she was 12. A pilot for 29 years, she has a degree in aviation management from Southern Illinois University, which offered classes for military personnel in the San Diego area.
As far as local commercial air service, “I was told by the public they want commercial air service back,” Miller said. She has received emails and calls. She’s heard it at public meetings, and from local leaders.
“Someone in the county even called and she said she wanted it.”
Getting that service back could take a while. In meeting with the Transportation Security Administration, she was told that Chico’s small cubicle-like security check area is insufficient.
“We have to tear it down,” she said of the cubicle. But not until there’s a strong interest in restoring the TSA function in Chico, which means Chico’s hooked an airlines.
Miller said she attended the last meeting of JetChico, a group of travelers and business people who want air service restored. They unveiled a plan to the Airport Commission last month to expand the terminal and are even investigating funding.
Of their efforts, Millers said, “I really appreciate the public getting involved and creating that group. I think it’s great they’re taking the initiative. I like their design. If it’s appropriate, we’ll use their design.”
Miller said she wanted to run it by an airport terminal architect “to make sure the flow is correct and adequate.”
The fact that Chico lost commercial air service does not leave Chico besmirched.
“When you see what’s behind that decision, we’re OK.”
SkyWest Airlines ended air service between Chico and San Francisco in December 2014, saying there weren’t enough passengers. On the other hand, local air passengers ignored the service, often driving to Sacramento. They called the service unreliable when flights were cancelled or delayed because of San Francisco’s weather or other airline priorities.
“We need to look into flying into other Bay Area airports,” said Miller, offering San Jose or Oakland as possibilities. Los Angeles is another destination for other travelers out of Chico, she noted.
In October, Miller will be attending what she calls “speed dating for airports.” Hosted by Sixel Consulting, the conference in Kentucky brings together airports and airlines looking for new markets. She’ll request several appointments with appropriate airlines, who will be looking for profit. Miller said the studies she’s recommending will uncover that information.
“Airlines are always looking at different markets because of the competition. They shift their model based on what will be profitable for them and help sustain their business.”
Even if she finds interested ears, it won’t be a short process, estimating at least two years. While the air traffic control tower is still staffed and operating, there is no security area or equipment at the airport.
“There are so many moving parts to getting air service. Studies need to convince the airlines they can make a profit here. The TSA would like 24 months to order equipment. They evaluate the facility and see if it’s adequate. They need space for passenger screening, bagging screening. Will the building take the weight of the equipment, then order the equipment.”
For years, Miller was told by a Chicoan with a Tahoe home to apply for this position. She admits he was right, and sees a lot of similarities.
“There’s a saying at airports; ‘You’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.’ I’m excited I’m seeing this airport.
Still finalizing her office, Miller doesn’t have a permanent phone number, and suggests that email is the best way to reach her, firstname.lastname@example.org