Santa Barbara Airport
Planes rest outside Signature Flight Support, a fixed-base operator at the Santa Barbara Airport. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara Airport plans to reconfigure its facilities beginning in 2022, a move that could result in new fixed-base private operators serving private pilots and general aviation.

Two private operators, Signature Flight Support and Atlantic Aviation, currently operate at the airport. So far, ACI Jet also has expressed interest in occupying a spot at the airport. 

The airport plans to issue a request for proposals in early 2021.

Deanna Zachrisson, the business development manager for the airport, called the effort “one of the most complex projects that this airport is likely to undertake since the design of the new airline terminal.”

“We’re excited about this project,” Zachrisson said. “It’s going to make a lasting difference for this airport.”

She said the project will serve private aviation for the next 30 years, and will result in fixed-based operators developing their own vision for the airport space and the local airport community.

The overhaul plan comes at a time when commercial air travel at the Santa Barbara Airport has increased dramatically — cutting into the amount of ground space for private carriers. The airport has added four new commercial air carriers serving five nonstop destinations since 2016. There has been an increase in the number of aircraft that remain overnight. The increase in commercial activity has resulted in a need for the airport to increase ramp space. 

The new design will likely include a relocation of the site that is currently occupied by Atlantic Aviation on the southeast side of the airport terminal, bringing both fixed-based operators to the northside of the airport. 

“Part of the analysis we are doing is determining how much is the right amount for general aviation, FBOs, cargo, commercial,” Airport Director Henry Thompson said. “It is going to be a balancing act to determine the exact amount.”

Airport officials are grappling with a new design amid the turmoil over the future of the High Sierra Grill & Bar. Although not directly related, a third fixed-base operator, ACI Jet, had expressed interest in loaning $500,000 to Warren Butler, who wanted to take over the High Sierra Grill and rebrand the restaurant as Flightline.

Airport officials balked at the transfer because they were concerned that it could give ACI Jet a competitive advantage once the request for proposals come out because the private aviation company would have control of a restaurant at the airport. 

Bill Borgsmiller, owner and CEO of ACI Jet, said that whether or not the restaurant concept goes forward, his company wants space at the airport. 

“We’re very excited about this airport and expressed our desire on multiple occasions in being here,” he told the city’s Airport Commisson at a recent meeting.

Airport officials expect to conduct a financial analysis of the project later this year, issue the request for proposals in early 2021, negotiate terms in in early 2022 and start construction midyear in 2022. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.