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NASA To Charge Google More For Gas To Fuel Its Planes : Google Now Likely To Lease The Whole Airport


Google’s new $82 million terminal at St. Jose Airport

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Google has a longstanding research relationship with US space agency NASA, since it signed a memorandum of understanding with the space agency as far back as 2005 for collaborative developments at NASA’s Ames Research station. Ames is located at its Moffett Field airfield in Mountain View California, which is just three miles from Google’s headquarters and right in the middle of Silicon Valley.

Then in 2008 Google signed a lease on 42 acres of unimproved land beside the airfield to build one of its R&D centers, for which it has been paying NASA a basic rent of US$3.66 million per year, plus future escalations. In addition the company has been renting hangar space there for some of its corporate planes, for the personal jets used by founders Sergey Brin, Larry Page and by CEO Eric Schmidt.


Google Jet

Now it spoils the party just a little bit to learn that for quite some time NASA has been undercharging Google for its access to their gas pumps there, only charging them around from US$2.37 to US$3.20 a gallon for jet fuel, compared to a market rate fluctuating somewhere between US$5 and US$8.50 per gallon, during the period involved.

It seems Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa has been after NASA for some time to change that, and NASA has now said it will discontinue the practice and charge Google the full market rate for jet fuel in the future. The prior difference, cumulating to some US$3.3 to US$5.3 million will not be clawed back, however, as there is no mechanism for doing, so it seems.

It may not matter much soon anyway, as Google are part of a group spending US$82 million to build a brand new private jet terminal at the St. Jose airport, which is also very close to their headquarters. The facility will be run by Signature Flight Support, which is led by company President Maria Sastre. Signature operates more than 100 such private corporate flight terminals around the world.

Nine planes of the Google jet fleet, run by Blue City Holdings, the private aviation arm of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, will then be based there, along with jets of other elite Silicon Valley corporations.

The new private passenger terminal, hangars and private tarmac area will occupy a 29 acre corner of the airport. Of the seven hangars being constructed five will be dedicated to Google’s fleet and include one big enough to house a Boeing 767.

So once the new terminal at St. Jose is built the Google planes will likely land there more often, as it is only a couple of miles further to the office, and the argument of the price of gas over at NASA’s Moffett Field could become moot.

But only partly, as Google are apparently negotiating to take over the lease for all three hangars at Moffett Field now as well, including the old dirigible hangar, Hangar One. 90, 000 square feet of other existing NASA buildings may also be included in this new lease as well.

Hangar One has been off-limits to people since 1997 when PCBs were found inside. If the lease is signed Google will not only fix up Hangar One, which has clear historical significance, but it will also rehabilitate the two other Moffett Field operational hangars, build an on-site educational facility, and even upgrade NASA’s golf course, set nicely beside the Pacific Ocean.

The Government Services Agency, which is responsible for managing all federal property finally issued a press release confirming that Planetary Ventures, a Google shell company, has been selected as the preferred lessee to rehabilitate historic Hangar One and to manage the whole of Moffett Federal Airfield.

The lease “will allow NASA to focus its resources on core missions, while protecting the federal need to use Moffett Field as a continued, limited-use airfield, ” NASA said in a press release.

Google responded with quiet pleasure to the selection, saying simply “We are delighted to move ahead in the selection process and we look forward to working with both GSA and NASA to preserve the heritage of Moffett Federal Airfield.”


Mountain View – Moffett Federal Airfield (NASA) / Wikimedia

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