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Discover Watsonville Municipal Airport: Gateway to California's Central Coast

Watsonville Airport (WVI) is the only regional airport within Santa Cruz County, serving a metropolitan area of nearly 300,000 people (includes parts of San Benito and Monterey counties). For more than half a century, this full-service, general aviation airport has provided the area with public safety, commercial, recreational, educational, charitable and emergency transportation benefits.

After the October 17, 1989 earthquake, the Airport was used extensively for earthquake relief and post-earthquake emergency business. More than 450 relief flights came to Watsonville and approximately 500,000 pounds of food were airlifted in.

How it all started

In 1939, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (precursor of today's FAA) offered to build an airport for Watsonville on the condition that the city provide the land and agree to maintain it as an airport in perpetuity.  In 1942, voters, by more than a 3-1 margin, approved a bond issue to buy the land, and construction began that year.  During World War II, the Airport was leased to the War Department for $1, and the Navy purchased another 35 acres at the site to establish a Naval Air Auxiliary Station.  In 1947, the Airport reverted to the city, which has run it ever since, making ongoing improvements and acquiring additional land to meet current and future needs.

Airport Basics at a Glance

  • Aircraft based at Watsonville: 331 ---for corporate, business, commercial and personal use

  • Estimated annual "operations" (landings or takeoffs): 90,000

  • Estimated annual $$$ inflow to the local economy: $662,400,000 (direct & indirect)

Community Benefits

Watsonville Airport has many and varied positive impacts on the communities it serves, some of which can be quantified and some of which cannot.  For example, in a time of business, personal or medical emergency, when every minute counts, an airport close at hand offers a level of speed and convenience whose value can't properly be measured.  Some of the more quantifiable benefits of the Airport include...

Economic Benefits The 2003 Watsonville Airport Economic Study, prepared under the direction of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG), is the most definitive work on the subject to date.  The Watsonville Municipal Airport was estimated to bring in $662,400,000 in 2002 in direct or indirect ways.  Think of it this way---every time a plane, any plane, lands or takes off from Watsonville Airport, $7,360 flows into the local community!  Additionally, Santa Cruz County collects over $475,000 per year in taxes from Airport businesses and aircraft based at Watsonville.  1/3 goes directly to the City of Watsonville, 1/3 goes to the Pajaro Valley USD and 1/3 goes to the County General Fund.  No local tax dollars go toward the support of the Airport.

Commercial and Charter Use The AMBAG Study identified over 40 businesses that either directly utilize or indirectly benefit from the Airport.  At least 10 governmental agencies utilize the Airport routinely---CA Dept. of Fish & Game, Highway Patrol and Sheriff to name a few.  There are at least 3 charter operations at the Airport, providing flights anywhere, anytime to meet customers' needs.

Educational Facilities More than 100 airline pilots and aircraft mechanics have trained at Watsonville Airport. The new Watsonville Aviation Education Center (WAEC) offers hands-on training to local youths in a wide variety of aviation related activities.  This is a unique way of introducing youths to the many vocations in aviation and the aerospace industry.

Ongoing Charitable Activities The annual, Watsonville Fire in the Sky Show provides the largest venue in Watsonville for local service clubs and non-profit organizations to operate booths to raise funds for charities.  Each year the Monterey Bay Chapter of the Ninety-Nines offer the popular "dime-a-pound ride" (i.e., a 120 lb. person flies for $12.00) to raise money for charities and aeronautical scholarships.  On the 1st Saturday of scheduled months, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA119)members provide FREE RIDES to youngsters aged 8 to 17, under their "Young Eagles" program.  Come out and join the fun!

        Note: Kids with gray hair or mustaches must show ID when requesting a FREE RIDE.

A Successful Operation Under Airport Manager, Rayvon Williams, assisted by his able staff, the Airport has proved to be a positive, successful, business operation.  The majority of revenues are derived from hangar rentals, commercial leases, FAA grants and profit from fuel sales.  Because the Airport serves a region of several counties, it draws pilots and their dollars from outside the area to Watsonville on a regular, ongoing basis.  For such a large operation, the Airport requires very little in the way of city services, such as fire protection, water, roads or police protection.

Emergency Uses Natural disasters such as storms or earthquakes in the past have taken out significant parts of the overland access to Santa Cruz County.  When that happened, the Airport provided a critical link to the rest of the world.  In addition, the Airport regularly provides residents and businesses with a higher level of travel speed whenever personal, medical or business needs arise.  Watsonville Airport also serves as a base for Civil Air Patrol search and rescue missions.

Increased Tourism The Airport hosts the annual Watsonville Fire in the Sky Show, which in 2017 attracted over 10,000 people and brought in an estimated $50,000 in revenue to local businesses and service clubs.   On a daily basis, Ella's at the Airport restaurant makes Watsonville Airport a popular fly-in destination.

A Full-Service City and County The presence of this regional airport completes the  package of facilities needed to make Watsonville a full-service city andSanta Cruz County a full-service county.  This airport is a vital part of the entire infrastructure.  Full-service localities are better able to compete for and attract new businesses, which ultimately improve the local economy.

Looking to the future

As the years go by, with the highway system becoming more congested, the demand for air services can only increase.  The Airport will become more valuable to the communities it serves.  Under the Airport Master Plan for improvements to the facility, Watsonville Airport will be able to continue serving the needs of this area as the demand increases.

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