I emailed Steve Stuhmer, president of Turlock Air Center, which operates the fuel service at the airport under contract with the city of Tracy. I wrote, “Thanks for returning my phone call Thursday. I’m sorry I missed you while I was out of the office close to deadline. Anyway, here are questions that some people in Tracy, especially pilots, are asking.”
Here are the answers Stuhmer provided by email:
Q: Why are fuel prices at Tracy Municipal Airport so high when compared to aircraft fuel prices at other airports nearby?
A: The answer is, they are not. For example, fuel prices at Stockton, the closest airport to Tracy with similar services (both JetA and Avgas), are higher than Tracy. Avgas at Stockton is $6.73 per gallon (16 cents higher than Tracy) and $6.54 for JetA ($1.30 per gallon higher than Tracy). Hayward, just over the hill is $6.77 for self-serve Avgas (20 cents higher than Tracy), and $5.45 for JetA vs. Tracy’s current price for JetA of $5.24 per gallon.
Aviation fuel is purchased in increments of 8,500 gallons. The typical fill-up by a pilot at Tracy is five to 20 gallons. The posted price of fuel is representative of the price paid at the time the fuel was purchased, which can be significantly different than the wholesale price on any given day. Example: Because it can be months between receiving fuel loads, if one airport gets a load of fuel as the market is rising and another when the market is falling, the wholesale cost can be significantly different and thus the price at the pump substantially different from one airport to another. The pendulum swings both ways for all airports and evens out over the course of a year.
Q: Have the fuel prices reduced the amount of fuel being pumped at the Tracy airport? What is the average gallons of fuel pumped a month?
A: Prices do affect the amount of fuel pumped, especially Avgas. Piston aircraft pilots (such as the ones complaining about the fuel prices at Tracy) will fly 20 miles out of their way to save 10 cents on a gallon of gas. The typical Tracy pilot is flying for pleasure, not business, and may only take 5 gallons on a fill-up. They rationalize burning $20 worth of fuel to save $3 on a fill-up at Livermore because they enjoy flying. I know, I am one of those piston pilots who loves to fly just for the fun of it. What they don’t take into consideration is that every time they fly over the hill to Livermore for gas in protest, they prolong the higher price of fuel at Tracy because we can’t sell fuel below cost, and we don’t re-order until the fuel on hand is sold.
Q: Are all three pumps (two 100 low led and one jet fuel) in operation? Are there any problems with self-serve operations?
A: There are no problems with the self-serve operation; all the pumps are working fine. We have one dispenser available for each grade of fuel. The west side of the fuel island services JetA customers, and the east side of the island services Avgas customers.
Q: Is an attendant on duty at any time during a week?
A: The Tracy fuel island is, as you described in question No. 3 above, “self-serve.” It was self-serve when the city ran it; it is self-serve now.
Q: Are high fuel prices a means of reducing activity at the airport? Is the city of Tracy staff pleased with your operation?
A: Tracy is a small boutique airport predominately used by light piston aircraft. Traffic at the Tracy airport fluctuates
seasonally and is typically governed by the weather. When there is fog or strong winds, there is no activity. When the sun is shining and the air is calm, the airport is buzzing with activity. Our goal is to increase traffic, not reduce it.
Q: Any other comments you care to make?
A: Only one. The Tracy airport will never prosper as long as there is this small group of complainers you see at every City Council meeting chastising our elected officials, protesting development of neighboring property and organizing boycotts against the local fuel provider. I have invested a substantial amount of money into the fueling operation at the Tracy airport, I am here for the long haul. I have plans to build additional hangars and a restaurant at the Tracy airport when the business climate changes. Hopefully, that will be sooner than later.
I expect there will more comments on this issue in the future. Stay tuned.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.