Big fires boost fuel sales at Paso Robles airport

Bill Weddington taxies out to take off from the Paso Robles airport in his Cessna Centurion.
Bill Weddington taxies out to take off from the Paso Robles airport in his Cessna Centurion. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

With Cal Fire battling the Chimney Fire near Lake Nacimiento and the Soberanes Fire in Big Sur, fuel sales at the Paso Robles Municipal Airport have increased.

During a slow fire year, the airport normally sells about 400,000 gallons of aviation fuel, said Roger Oxborrow, airport manager. During a busy fire year, fuel sales at the airport can peak at more than 600,000 gallons.

“A big fire like this could easily add another couple of hundred gallons to our fuel sales,” he said.

A busy fire season provides a modest revenue boost for the city. Jet fuel is not charged sales tax, so the city does not see a benefit in that way, Oxborrow said.

However the city does charge a landing fee based on tonnage. A smaller aircraft costs $40 to land while a larger one costs $100.

During a slow fire year, the city receives $10,000 to $15,000 in landing fees. During a busy fire season, that sum can jump to $30,000, Oxborrow said.

During the first half of this year, the airport sold 255,000 gallons of fuel. The highest full-year total since 2010 was 655,000 gallons last year.

This year has been particularly busy with the airport hosting six retardant tankers and six helicopters. Normally, the airport has two or three airplanes through the fire season.

“There is a massive amount of logistics during a big fire,” he said. “We are constantly bringing in more fuel.”

The airport also serves Camp Roberts and Fort Hunter Liggett. A large military exercise on either of those two bases can also increase fuel sales, Oxborrow said.

Andrew Robillard, facilities manager for ACI Jet, which supplies fuel for the Paso Robles airport, said the company shifts resources from the San Luis Obispo headquarters to the Paso Robles airport in anticipation of fire season.

“This summer seems to be a little bit busier with fires, and we have had some pretty heavy demand, but we have more than enough fuel,” he said.