For many people, Amelia Earhart is the take-off and landing point for their knowledge about the contribution of women to aviation.
The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots, has worked for 82 years to stretch those horizons, and its Santa Maria Valley chapter is developing a park to honor women in aviation history.
The park is a natural extension of the Runway of Roses in front of the Museum of Flight, which memorializes some of the local women pilots who have kept Earhart’s pioneering spirit flying over the Santa Maria Valley. Katherine Hulme and Wilma Poage were two of those women. Hulme was the museum’s first executive director, while Poage and current museum director Mike Geddry came up with the idea for the park.
Geddry said it was a project whose time was overdue. “When I go on vacation I go to a lot of museums and go to a lot of military installations because of our air show,” Geddry said. “One of the things I kept consistently seeing – I could go to 20 museums and one out of 20 has something about women aviators. And they’re a big contributor to aviation, especially during World War II when they were ferrying planes for the military and actually working in the factories taking the place of men. I’m not a male chauvinist. I believe they should get recognition.”
Poage became ill not long after being chosen to direct the museum, however, and died from breast cancer before her park project could be realized.
Sunni Gibbons and the rest of the local Ninety-Nines are now making sure Poage and other women in aviation are not forgotten.
Much like Earhart, who participated in the first Women’s Air Derby in 1929 which began in Santa Monica and ended in Cleveland, Poage, Gibbons, Diane Pirman, Pat Viker, Sonja Gerfen and Mary Ann King are Central Coast pilots who competed in the annual Palms to Pines Air Race. That race also starts in Santa Monica, CA and stretches to Bend, Ore.
Earhart and 98 other women went on to form the Ninety Nines. “That was a courageous group of women,” said Pirman, a pilot since 1983 who participated in the Palms to Pines regularly until the race was discontinued in 2009. “There have been a lot of women who have set records in aviation who were not Ninety-Nines.”
Pirman said part of the Memorial Park of the Ninety-Nines will be a mural that will depict the contribution women have made to aviation history. Pilots from Earhart to the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots who were instrumental during World War II, to Jeana Yeager who teamed with Dick Rutan in the first non-stop round-the-world flight, to the women of the Space Shuttle program will be part of the mural, Pirman said.
A display celebrating women aviators is also being assembled in the Museum of Flight, located at 3015 Airpark Drive in Santa Maria.
Much of the work on the front-yard-sized plot has already been completed. A weed-covered space near the Santa Maria Museum of Flight was cleared by Boy Scout Troop 87 and the donated plans of landscape contractor Jim Nishimori were turned into reality through the efforts of Andy Cardinal, who earned his Eagle Scout award for the effort.
Gibbons, whose grandfather was on the USS Lexington during its search for Earhart when her plane disappeared over the South Pacific in 1937, took over the project after Poage died. She secured donations – aviation legend Clay Lacy provided $5,000 – and grants from the Santa Barbara Foundation and Woods Family to get the project going.
The local Ninety-Nines are seeking sponsorships for the tables and benches to be installed in the park. Memorial bricks will also line the meandering walkway through the area. “We expect to have the bulk of it finished within the month. We will be dedicating it in September when the whole (Ninety-Nines) Southwest Section comes here for its meeting,” Gibbon said.
The fly-in will attract approximately 100 members for the Sept. 7-9 event.
By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer email@example.com Santa Maria Times | Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2012
As the airline industry recovers from the economic turbulence of the past three years, Allegiant Air will be increasing its flights from the Santa Maria Public Airport to Las Vegas in February.
The added flight is a bit of good news in a mixed report airport General Manager Chris Hastert received from Mead and Hunt, an aviation consulting firm. The report showed that while the airline industry is still sputtering, the airport’s service with commercial air carriers United Express/Skywest and Allegiant compares favorably to other Western Region airports, which includes those in Arizona, Nevada, California and Hawaii.
The news comes as the industry recuperates from the recession that saw several companies struggle, and others forced to merge to stay aloft.
“I think overall the industry – there’s been a lot of bankruptcies and mergers and a lot of uncertainty of routes – so I don’t see any immediate opportunities for expansion. Although we continue to look for different opportunities and be present in the airlines’ minds if they’re looking at different sites to expand service out of,” said Hastert, who attended a conference in Phoenix earlier this month. “I just didn’t get a good feeling from them that they were looking to do much of that.”
Santa Maria’s commercial passenger carriers’ 2011 third quarter numbers sort of reflect the turbulence in the industry. The load factor – which represents the number of passengers per available seats – dropped 8.6 percent from the third quarter of 2010, but was up over the second quarter of 2011. The most startling decline was United Express/SkyWest’s Los Angeles service, which dropped 21 percent during the quarter. That means fewer people were flying out of Santa Maria, but according to Mead and Hunt’s report, nine of the top 25 markets were down, with Denver, Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City and Sacramento all experiencing declines of at least 20 percent.
Santa Maria ranked 35th in the Western Region in the number of outbound passengers with 42,450 for the fiscal year ending in June 2011. Santa Barbara was 23rd with 340,270 flights and San Luis Obispo was 25th with 123,770 flights.
While passenger numbers have dropped, revenue has increased because fares have risen. The average domestic airfare increased 12 percent over the previous year and in 10 markets it went up 20 percent. Average fares for flights out of Santa Maria were $176 in 2010-11, the 19th highest in the region. San Luis Obispo ($195) and Santa Barbara ($194) were ninth and 10th, respectively, among the 59 regional airports. The higher fares mean domestic airlines’ revenue at the Santa Maria Public Airport has increased 11 percent since the previous year.
“On Allegiant to Vegas, unit revenue performance we’re doing well and on United to Los Angeles we’re doing well,” Hastert said. “The airlines, for them to be doing really well in a market, they want to see high fares and high load factors and I don’t think we’re quite at that level.”
Allegiant Airlines is doing well enough to be increasing its number of flights to Las Vegas from three to four per week, beginning in February. The new schedule will feature flights on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Communications Director Brian Davis said the company is also working on extending its service to Hawaii from an unnamed location. “Yes, we are absolutely making plans to serve Hawaii,” Davis said. “Our goal is to serve Hawaii by some time this summer.”
The company purchased six Boeing 757s in 2011 and is working with the Federal Aviation Administration on getting Extended-range Twin-engine Operations (ETOPS) certification in order to fly to the islands.
Davis said Santa Maria has been a solid stop in its network for a long time with approximately 90 percent sales of available seats. He said the company isn’t ready to reveal its plans for the Hawaiian service, but Hastert said Santa Maria has provided the company the information it requested to be included in the discussion.
Hastert said the airport’s runway extension to 8,000 feet puts it in the position to handle such flights. He said without it, the airport wouldn’t have made the 7,000-foot runway length minimum. “Hopefully, as the airline industry changes and the market changes we’ll be considered one of the earlier (airports) for expanded service,” he said.
By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org Santa Maria Times | Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012
More terminal improvements are on the agenda Thursday for the Santa Maria Public Airport Board of Directors.
With paving of the 1,700-foot main runway extension complete, the board will begin considering other improvement projects, including what to do with the outdoor viewing area adjacent to the boarding terminal, when it meets at 7 p.m. at the Airport Administration Building.
The area is an angular mix of grass and concrete where visitors can watch travelers board and disembark commercial airliners. The board will discuss how to improve the area, said General Manager Chris Hastert.
“We want to do something different with that area,” Hastert said. “We want to put in a little bit better landscaping, some benches and tables.” Preliminary plans are to improve the area enough to be used for gatherings such as Chamber of Commerce mixers, arts and crafts shows, and similar events.
A memorial to long-time airport director Ted Eckert is also being discussed, Hastert said.
Hardscape work costs could range from $14,700 to $42,000, depending on the materials and how much of the area is paved, according to an estimate. Improvements to the area were not budgeted for this fiscal year, so work would not begin until after July 1.
The board will also discuss an amendment to a lease for cattle grazing on airport property, and receive a report from Hastert on a recent air service conference.
Granite Construction finished up paving the 150-foot wide extension last week. The fresh pavement now has to cure for 30 days before any more work will take place. Hastert said grooves will be cut into the new pavement for water runoff, and striping will be added. Until then, electrical work on runway lighting will continue.
By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer email@example.com Santa Maria Times | Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012