The history of Chico Municipal Airport

When it comes to the airport, the federal government has been very good to Chico. Beginning with the airport’s initial construction as part of a Depression-era civil-works project, Uncle Sam has ponied up hundreds of millions of dollars for runways, hangars, fire stations and other goodies over the course of about 70 years.

The next phase of airport construction (assuming it is approved) will cost about $38 million, of which the feds will cover about 90 percent. To this day, the Air Force uses Chico Municipal as a training facility, allowing U-2s and T-38 trainers to practice approaches and touchdowns on a regular basis.

1933: Construction begins after a Chico Chamber of Commerce committee secures the property and enlists federal and county support. The 1,700-foot dirt airstrip and single operations building costs $3,500.

1935: Opening day promises a parachutist, stunt flying and “joyrides” for a crowd of about 5,000. Afternoon rain cancels many events.

1940: A city plan to construct and lease buildings at the airport is approved, but few businesses show interest. The airstrip is by this time already considered outdated.

1942-1947: The Army Air Corps takes over the airport for use as the Chico Army Flying School. At least 2,000 military personnel and 500 civilians work at the base, where they construct a new 6,700-foot runway, control tower, fire station and many of the hangars that are still in use today.

1948: The city gets the improved airport back, plus an additional 1,160 acres of land, but the government includes a “recapture clause” that would allow it to take back the facility in case of a national emergency. The clause keeps businesses wary of buying or leasing airport property for many years to come.

1950-1956: The airport attracts 18 firms. Southwest begins flight service, carrying 7,000 people per year. By 1956, 700 workers are employed at the airport.

1963: Recapture clause eliminated.

1971: New terminal built.

1992-2000: Number of firms at the airport climbs from 42 to 70.

2001: United Airlines declares bankruptcy, cuts passenger service in half.

—Josh Indar