Busy Salt Lake City International Airport eyes nudging out some small planes by raising hangar rents

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Airplanes at South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan Tuesday May 3, 2016.

Salt Lake City International Airport officials figure they charge so little to rent general aviation hangars that it is attracting problematic amounts of small airplane traffic, taking away business and growth from nearby airports.

So they are eying some big rent hikes.

“We’ve kind of ruined the market for general aviation because we are charging rates that are so far below market,” Airport Director Bill Wyatt told the Airport Advisory Board this week as it discussed strategy to move more small aircraft to the other two airports owned by the city: South Valley Regional in West Jordan and Tooele Valley Airport.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be at Salt Lake International with your Cessna 172 if you’re only paying $250 a month?” Wyatt said.

The board heard a report that only one other large hub airport in America — Honolulu — even offers Tee hangars for single small aircraft. The monthly rent in Salt Lake City is $271, compared to $717 in Hawaii.

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) A plane takes off at Salt Lake City in February.

Salt Lake City’s rent is cheaper than such medium hub airports as Austin, Texas ($535); reliever airports such as Scottdale, Ariz. ($435); and nearby local airports such as Skypark in Bountiful ($350), Ogden ($300) and Provo (up to $300).

Officials found that hangars are even cheaper than the cost of nearby commercial storage units where people stow furniture and household goods.

Tee hangars at the airport cost 29 cents a square foot per month, compared with 69 cents at Airport Landing Self Storage, 70 cents at Diamond Self Storage and $1.20 at Security Pro Self Storage.

Of course, hangars have “access to facilities that these other commercial storage units don't: They have access to a runway” and other maintenance and fueling operations, said Steve Domino, a consultant with RS&H, which is guiding master planning at the airport.

The system is helping to draw extra small aircraft to the international airport at the same time commercial traffic there is booming.

The “airport is incredibly busy," Wyatt said. “The 15 largest passenger volume days in the history of the airport have all occurred in the last year, many of those in the last two or three months.”

When the first phase of the $3.6 billion project to replace the terminal, concourses and other facilities opens Sept. 15, 2020, he said, “we’ll probably have passenger volume that we didn’t expect to have until about 2022."

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Concourse B begins to take shape in the distance during a tour by Salt Lake City International Airport announcing food concessionaires for the new expanded airport on Wed. Feb. 20, 2019.

With that, he said, the runway used by general aviation “is going to start getting more and more use from the commercial carriers, which means that Cessna 172 owner is going to sit at the end of the runway for 40 or 45 minutes burning fuel while they’re waiting for a slot to take off.”

So airport officials are looking at ways to encourage small aircraft to shift to its South Valley and Tooele airports — and officials said that includes raising rent for hangars.

“We’ve got to deal with that," Wyatt said. “And that’s something that probably is in the sooner-than-later category.”

The airport is looking at doing a more in-depth study of market rates to help it determine future rent rates.

“It’s going to be a bumpy road,” Wyatt said. But he wants data to show clearly why rate hikes are needed, at what levels, and that “there’s no way around it.”

Wyatt also noted that eliminating some Tee hangars at the international airport could allow room for expansion of maintenance, fueling and other facilities desired by contractors.

Officials also are examining steps needed to allow more hangar construction at South Valley and Tooele to allow more plane owners to shift there.

It could be especially difficult at Tooele, which lacks water and sewer service currently — and financial resources to extend lines there have not been found.

Domino and Wyatt said the international airport does not intend to chase away all smaller aircraft.

“General aviation aircraft need to use Salt Lake International,” Domino said. “There’s nothing in our study analysis that would indicate that they shouldn’t have access. And, in fact, it’s required by law that all aircraft have availability to the airport.”