Google executives love to fly, and they fly a lot. A recent NASA report by the space agency's inspector general found chartered jets shuttling GOOG higher-ups received discounted fuel from the federal government that they weren't entitled to; there's now talk of Google paying some of that money back. But Google may get to experience every Fortune 500 company's wildest travel dream next month: A $82 million jet center dedicated to executives' private planes.
In January, groundbreaking is expected to take place on a 29-acre facility featuring approximately 270,000 square feet of hangar space. The huge swath of space will effectively become a separate airport for Google executives and other tech muckety-mucks; private aviation support firm Signature Flight Support has a 50-year lease on the facility and will operate it with a partner named Blue City Holdings. In a statement, airport executives described San Jose-based Blue City as a "corporation representing the personal aircraft of the principals at Google" and explicitly said they would grant private airport section access to "other figures in the Silicon Valley business community as well."
So why is a significant chunk of San Jose's airport being given over to a private corporation? The answer, as always, is capital. Mineta San Jose will make approximately $3 million annually by leasing the space to Signature and Blue City/Google; this means a cool $150 million for the airport over the coming decades. Mineta officials say the space will be home to the personal aircrafts of Google's principals; the area on the airport's west side has reportedly been underutilized for years. Documents published in February 2013 reveal that the new facility will create 36 permanent jobs, generate 370 "direct and indirect jobs," and eventually generate more than $300,000 in taxes annually, over and above the $3 million annual lease cost.
However, Google won't be the first corporate client moving into the Mineta site. The west side area slated for Blue Sky contains Hewlett Packard's corporate hangers, among other facilities. The new Google complex will reportedly be the one of the largest single-client corporate air facilities in the world. Much of the site slated to be developed by Signature is currently leased by aircraft giant Atlantic Aviation; Atlantic filed legal challenges against the city of San Jose in May 2013. The company, which runs charter and small plane facilities around the country, alleges San Jose didn't fulfill California environmental requirements when approving the Blue Sky/Google facility.
So San Jose's getting money and Google is getting, in effect, its own private airport. Right now, Google principals like Larry Page and Eric Schmidt stash their aircraft at Moffett Field in Mountain View. Moffett, a landmark for travelers on California's Route 101, is operated by NASA and has been home to Google's informal aircraft fleet since 2007.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned a NASA report alleging that aircraft flying Google executives received steeply discounted fuel. The planes, operated by another Google-associated firm named H211, are alleged to have paid between $3.3 million and $5.3 million less than market rate for jet fuel. While NASA's report does not accuse H211 and Google of "intentional misconduct," it noted the prices "result(ed) in considerable savings for H211 and engendered a sense of unfairness and a perception of favoritism toward H211 and its owners." As of press time, it's unknown what the proposed Blue City-Google arrangement at Mineta San Jose will mean for the long-term future of H211's presence at Moffett Field.
[Images courtesy of Signature Flight Support]