By any other name?

Council chooses regional brand for Chico’s airport

An aerial view from 2015 of the Chico Air Museum at the Chico airport. (Photo by Bsudicky, via Wikimedia Commons)

Chico Municipal Airport has a new name. That much is undisputed fact after the City Council meeting Tuesday night (Nov. 15), when council members decided on the rebrand to Chico Regional Airport.

How much the new name matters is a matter of dispute. And, for something apparently straightforward, the choice stirred a surprising amount of drama—“unnecessary drama,” per Councilwoman Alex Brown, the lone dissenter. Deliberation included a motion, a substitute motion and a hearty helping of sarcasm.

Nonetheless, Chico will petition the Federal Aviation Commission to approve the change, though the airport code will remain CIC. Public Works Director Erik Gustafson, under whose division the airport falls, estimated the cost between $5,000 and $8,000, primarily for signage and printed materials.

“The goal behind this is we’ve done so to move the airport forward on so many aspects,” Mayor Andrew Coolidge told the CN&R after the 48-minute meeting, referring to improvements to the taxiway, widening of Cohasset Road and federal support to bring in an airline.

“There obviously are some people who don’t believe our airport will ever become the regional airport it should, maybe could have been; I’m not part of that group. I think we have a good ability to bring flights in here—Redding is doing that on a regular basis. The citizens of Chico want commercial air travel, and I think the city needs to do whatever it can to push for that.”

Coolidge initiated the process at the council level, requesting a discussion that took place Oct. 18, but the Airport Commission started talking about a regional rebrand three years ago. Gustafson explained Tuesday that “we’re not innovators on this,” citing Reno/Tahoe and Merced as examples of municipal airports renamed to reflect broader service areas. Chico’s catchment area covers Butte, Glenn and part of Tehama County.

After consulting with Chico State marketing students, an industry consultant and the commission, city staff narrowed the names to two: Chico Regional Airport and Northern California Regional Airport Chico. Coolidge made a motion for the latter but immediately sensed hesitation among his colleagues, turning toward Vice Mayor Kasey Reynolds and saying, “You prefer something else?” Reynolds preferred the shorter name that represents a one-word modification versus a wholesale revision.

Prefacing his remarks with “I know I’m in the minority,” Councilman Sean Morgan posited, “Are we ready for the influx of airlines when we change the name? Do we have the staff? I don’t think we’re ready!” Sarcasm finished, he added his support to Chico Regional Airport, seconding a motion by Councilman Mike O’Brien that passed 6-1.

Public Works Director Erik Gustafson (right) presents the City Council with potential new names for Chico’s aiport. (Photo by Evan Tuchinsky)

“We heard a presentation from the public works director that the renaming might be beneficial,” O’Brien told the CN&R, “and if that’s the case, I was certainly OK with renaming it to something simple. Airports I’m exposed to typically have three words, and Chico Regional Airport made sense to me.

“I was actually fine with Chico Municipal Airport, but if we were going to change it, and that branding and renaming was going to help us in the future, I was certainly OK with that.”

Brown, not so much. Framing her vote from the dais, she said, “As much as I appreciate exercises, it’s just that. It’s premature. No.” She elaborated afterward, with Morgan jesting, “Alex Brown will forever be known as the council member who did not rename Chico Municipal Airport.”

“Sometimes there’s a reason to fight for something; this was fighting for nothing,” she told the CN&R. “It felt like an exercise, to no avail. No data was cited saying changing the name was going to increase participation in the airport … and we’ve got way more steps before the airport would even be a plausible, functional regional airport—and there are things to be said about whether that should happen at all.”

The council wrapped the meeting by approving three council member requests to agendize items: identifying more locations for dog parks (Deepika Tandon); applying federal COVID-relief funds to a “shop local” initiative (Coolidge); and hearing an update from the Jesus Center about operations at the Pallet shelter (Tandon). Brown dissented on the second motion; the other votes were unanimous.

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