Google subsidiary wins NASA lease to overhaul Moffett Field

Google will manage the federal airfield and restore a former airship hangar

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management, Google, NASA

The U.S. government has chosen a Google subsidiary to rehabilitate Moffett Federal Airfield in Silicon Valley, a site that has hosted Google executives' fleet of private jets.

Moffett Federal Airfield is a former naval air station that is now home to the NASA Ames Research Center. It includes the historic Hangar One, originally built to house airships, which has been stripped of its siding because it contained toxic materials. In 2013, the U.S. General Services Administration kicked off a process to determine who would rehabilitate Hangar One and manage the airfield through a long-term lease agreement.

Planetary Ventures LLC, a subsidiary of Google that handles real estate deals, was identified Monday as the winner of a competitive process to find a private group that would collaborate with the government on the project. NASA, in its announcement, said that it would work with Planetary Ventures to put Hangar One to new use and eliminate the space agency's management costs of the airfield.

NASA said it was now working with Planetary Ventures to negotiate the terms of the lease. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Moffett airfield is also used by H211, a company controlled by Google executives who use it for their private jets. Google has been criticized in the past for getting discounts from the government for fuel used by those aircraft.

"Hangar One was the landmark of Silicon Valley well before the rise of today's high tech titans," GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a statement. "NASA's partnership with the private sector will allow the agency to restore this treasure for more efficient use," he said.

The new lease would eliminate the space agency's operation and management costs of the airfield, NASA said.

Planetary Ventures' lease proposal includes a range of objectives. Chief among them is to re-skin and protect Hangar One and create a public use and educational facility.

NASA's announcement brought with it some criticism. Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group, said in a statement that giving Google control of the airport only rewards the bad behavior of Google executives. In December, a NASA audit found that the jet fleet owned by H211 received an unwarranted discount worth up to US$5.3 million on jet fuel purchased from the government.

"This is like giving the keys to your car to the guy who has been siphoning gas from your tank," said John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, of NASA's announcement.

Google, however, was not involved in improperly getting fuel discounts from the government, a Google spokeswoman said. A NASA report found that the fuel discounts were due to a misunderstanding between the government and their fuel providers, not with H211, she said.

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