Airport board has fresh plan

FAIRMONT – Change is happening, and quickly, at Fairmont Municipal Airport.

On Tuesday, the airport advisory board unanimously approved a rough draft of a job description for a city employee who will manage the facility. The recommendation will be passed along to the City Council.

For many years, the airport has been run by a fixed-base operator. Most recently, that was Five Lakes Aviation, whose contract will come to an early close on Sept. 30 – four years before the contract was set to expire.

“Our FBO maintenance contract arrangement has been place for 25-some years,” said city administrator Mike Humpal. “… I would say it has not worked well the past 15 years.”

Humpal proposed hiring an employee for the day-to-day operations and essentially making the airport another city department, which would fall under Public Works. The manager will be non-union, like other department supervisors.

“The city owns it, the city runs it. Makes sense to me,” said board member Bruce Peters, who first wanted to know possible downfalls in doing away with a fixed-base operator/manager model before he supported the concept. None were presented.

According to a rough draft of a 2014 budget, Humpal’s plan would cost less than contracting out the job, and that money could be put back into the airport. Firmer numbers will be available in the near future.

“I think we need a new model of management. I would like to see us try to go in a totally different direction,” Humpal said.

He envisions a young, energetic person in the role, someone with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in airport administration and three years experience, or 10 years experience in airport management. A licensed pilot would be a definite plus, but not a requirement.

The list of skills needed for the job is long, as well as the physical demands.

Coordination and communication are key themes that comes up frequently in the position’s job description. Responsibilities include:

o Monitoring daily activities at the airport and ensuring compliance with state and federal guidelines.

o Performing daily inspections of the facilities.

o Coordinating maintenance and snow removal personnel as necessary.

o Coordinating ramp service.

o Meeting and greeting customers and addressing their needs and concerns.

o Maintaining the fuel system, billing and revenue collection in cooperation with the city finance department.

o Working to develop public/private partnership for fuel services.

o Coordinating work pertaining to requests or complaints from tenants, airport users and inspectors.

o Writing and enforcing airport operating rules and standards.

o Acting as a staff liaison to the advisory board.

o Working cooperatively with other city departments.

o Keeping the city engineer and City Council fully informed on all matters covering the operation of the airport.

o Supervising the construction of state- and federal-aid airport improvement projects and conferring with consultants, engineering staff and contractors.

o Overseeing the collection of revenues from airport users.

The list goes on.

While the city is searching for the right person for the position, interim assistance in managing the airport will be needed. Mark Craven, a long-time pilot and airport user, will likely be among those lending his expertise.

Craven was at Tuesday’s meeting, where he asked about how the city will entice a maintenance business to the airport. The recruitment role would fall to Humpal, as part of his responsibilities with Fairmont Economic Development Authority.

In other business, the advisory board approved the resignation of Logan Kahler. He is one of three Kahler Automation employees on the board, a point that was recently criticized at a public meeting, and he also noted the group could use a fresh perspective. Kahler has served on the board for six years.