The Town of Mammoth Lakes purchased the then Mammoth June Lake Airport from Mono County in 1992. The airport purchase was supported by a ballot measure in the town.  After the town began operation of the airport, a community volunteer drive raised over $250,000 in donations to remodel the terminal building. Community support for the airport remains strong today. Over the years the airport’s name has changed from the Mammoth June Lake Airport to the Mammoth Lakes Airport and today the Mammoth Yosemite Airport.   

 

From the early 1970’s to 1995, a variety of airlines provided scheduled commercial air service to the airport. The airport then and now operates with a 7000’ x 100’ runway and supporting infrastructure, a 50 passenger terminal building and an FAA certification to support commercial flights. Environmental documentation completed in 1997 allowed the extension of the runway to 9000’ x 100’, a 25,000 square foot terminal building, and evaluated significant passenger levels with aircraft in size up to the B757.  

 

Beginning in 1997, the Town and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) formed a partnership to bring destination air service to the Eastern Sierra. MMSA proposed to subsidize a major air carrier with the Town working with the FAA to provide grants for airport improvements.

 

 

 

 

MMSA senior management had previously established relationships with American Airlines (AA) and initial correspondence showed a mutual interest in providing service to the airport. 

 

In 1998 MMSA hosted public workshops and presentations in the town to explain the airlines “hubs and spokes” system and the benefits of destination air service.  Proposed air service was designed to provide incremental visits with longer stays particularly during the midweek.  As an example of financial impacts to the Town, the following formula is realistic: 

100,000 visits x 5 day stay x $250 expenditure per day x 2 economic multiplier = $250,000,000. 

 

 

Additionally, if destination air service is subsidized case study analysis indicates that unsubsidized regional service will follow. 

 

Air service is viewed as a means to help stabilize Mammoth’s economy; provide

a broader exposure to the long-term visitor marketplace; and assist in controlling the growth rate in traffic and air quality.  The business community in Mammoth Lakes has had to deal with a violently fluctuating economy created as a result of our weekend-based recreation economy, coupled with only the Southern California market.  This has meant that our occupancy rates languish at extremely low year round rates and nearly all of our visitors arrive by car.  Filling beds with longer-term visits will create incredible opportunities for the town without having to expand our bed base.  It will allow the ski area to concentrate on weekday and reduce the emphasis on weekends.  Finally our permanent residents will be able to travel more conveniently.

 

By late 1998, MMSA and AA reached a tentative agreement to bring destination air service to Mammoth with B757 aircraft from AA hubs in Dallas and Chicago.  An operational analysis of the airport’s infrastructure by AA’s operations engineering group generated a list of improvements required for service. 

 

§         Runway widened from 100’ to 150’,

§         Runway lengthened from 7000’ to 8000’,

§         Improved aircraft rescue and firefighting,

§         Terminal building to support B757 (188 passengers) service, 

§         Enhanced airport security. 

 

Given the requirements from AA, the Town developed a Capital Improvement Plan to support proposed air service. The cost of the project is approximately $40 million. The FAA share is $28 million in grant funding with the Town providing $3 million in matching funds and $9 million for a new terminal building. In  1999, the Town started work on environmental studies under NEPA and CEQA to study project requirements, which differ from the previous 1997 SSEIR approval such as widening the runway. 

 

In the summer of 1998, Town and MMSA officials traveled to Washington, D.C. and FAA headquarters to solicit congressional and FAA sponsorship for the airport expansion project. High-level sponsorship was required because of the project’s financial magnitude. The delegation achieved significant success in both arenas and in fact, the succeeding two congressional appropriations bills directed the FAA to provide priority funding to the Town of Mammoth Lakes. 

 

In November of 1999, members of Town staff and MMSA management met with AA management and engineering staff in Dallas to approve the proposed airport design and review aircraft performance issues. The following summer, a B757 test and evaluation flight to Mammoth validated aircraft performance projections and flight procedures. 

 

In 2000, the Town received FAA approval for a Benefit Cost Analysis which supports the cost of the expansion project, a Business Plan which demonstrates how the airport will work financially and a request for a Letter of Intent (LOI) to provide a multi-year commitment of Airport Improvement Program Grant-in-Aid Funding which provides the basis for FAA funding. In December, the FAA adopted the Final Environmental Assessment, issued a Finding Of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and approved the Airport Layout Plan (ALP).  In January 2001, the FAA issued the LOI to fund the expansion. The LOI was followed by a

$19 million grant with grants in successive following years of $7 million and $1 million. 

 

During the environmental review process, the State Attorney General had expressed concerns about the expansion project. After the FAA issued a Record of Decision on the EA in the summer of 2001, the Attorney General joined by Earth Justice and other environmental groups, filed an appeal on the EA in the  Federal Court. In a decision in April 2003, the court upheld the appeal and ordered the FAA to prepare an environmental impact statement on the expansion project. In a parallel lawsuit, the Sierra Club sued the Town regarding the adequacy of the Town’s environmental impact report. The Town was upheld in Superior Court and a final ruling in the Town’s favor by the California Appeals Court was filed on June 23, 2005. 

 

In the spring of 2003, the Town had completed engineering plans and specifications for the expansion project.  Bids were solicited for Phase I construction but were put on hold after the Court decision. 

 

In the summer of 2003, the FAA selected a consultant to write the environmental impact statement. Since then scoping and environmental studies have continued under an FAA grant to the Town. As part of this process, AA has reaffirmed its commitment to air service to Mammoth. A draft EIS is expected in the early winter of 2005 with a final EIS in the summer of 2006. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In October of 2004, the FAA sent a letter to the Town regarding the previously approved airport design from the 2000 ALP and also the status of commercial development by Hot Creek.  Over the past year the Town has worked to resolve the FAA’s concerns.  As of May 2005, the Town believes airport design issues have been resolved primarily by the addition of an aircraft control tower to the airport ALP.  The Town hopes to finalize solutions to the remaining Hot Creek Development issues by the end of the fall of 2005. With continued progress in the environmental documents and no additional legal action, construction of Airport improvements could begin in the summer of 2006 with air service beginning December 2007.

 

The Airport Commission hopes that this information will be useful to the community in clarifying the myriad issues related to the Mammoth Yosemite Airport.