FAA contacts county regarding complaints

By Dean Wright - deanwright@aimmediamidwest.com

GALLIPOLIS — With the Federal Aviation Administration recently contacting the Gallia Commissioners in regard to several phone and email complaints with concern for the operation of the Gallia-Meigs Regional Airport, the commissioners responded and noted the response in their Thursday meeting.

Program Manager Mary Jagiello for the Detroit Airport District Office signed the letter, asking the county to respond within 15 days of its receipt. The FAA letter is dated for Jan. 16 and the commissioners’ response is dated for Feb. 1.

“Allegation of retaliatory action of raising fuel prices the Monday following the auction. Apparently, the price of 100LL was raised 50 cents a gallon and there is belief the increase was due to the FAA denying the permission for (an earlier) auction to be held on the airport in July 2017 and specific pilots are being targeted for informing the FAA of the policy violation,” the FAA letter reads.

Airport hangar tenants previously came before the commissioners on two separate occasions with concerns regarding what has been claimed to be grant obligation agreement violations. With the acceptance of federal money to rehabilitate the Gallia-Meigs Regional Airport runway, commissioners have signed documents detailing agreements to meet certain FAA criteria. While commissioners have acknowledged signing paperwork, they have stressed that they maintain the airport’s operation and have remained in line with legal obligations.

Commissioners responded in kind in their own letter saying that the shifting of gas prices was a common practice to remain competitive with area airports. Fuel prices were raised to reportedly remain competitive with fuel spikes in other airports. “The allegations that the fuel prices were increased due to retaliatory action is completely preposterous and purely a coincidence,” the commissioner letter reads.

“Allegation of misuse of hangar space, discrepancies in rents charged, and onerous hangar leases being imposed by the County Administration. It was noted that lease rates for non-aviation use of hangars at KGAS (the airport’s FAA designation) are lower than rents charged for aircraft tenants,” the FAA letter reads.

The commissioners responded that in the past, the airport had been run by an appointed airport advisory board tasked with overseeing day-to-day operation of the airport operations and rentals. Due to similar allegations, the board was disbanded in December 2012 at the recommendation of the board. The county claims it has worked to “mitigate onerous leases to be more consistent and meet the standards and regulations of the FAA and per the Airport Sponsor Assurances to the FAA. However, there are still some onerous practices occurring by the select few tenants at the airport that other tenants appear to be observing and are not happy about.” Problems occurring at the airport the county has reportedly found include pilots taking a courtesy car for “extended periods of time,” trash being brought from outside the airport to be dumped, theft of fuel and the damaging of a fuel farm among other reports stated in the commissioner letter.

Complaints in the FAA letter have alleged that the county also “constructed a storage facility on airport property to house” Gallia Sheriff’s Office equipment and vehicles. “There were concerns the building is not depicted on an approved Airport Layout Play (ALP), it was constructed without an aeronautical study (airspace review) and is located to close to the AWOS (automated weather observing system). It has asserted that the Sheriff’s (Office) has exclusive rights and uses the building for non-aeronautical purposes rent free.”

Commissioners responded the building in question was a county owned building and constructed to store not just law enforcement equipment, but also housed airport snow removal and maintenance equipment. Commissioners claim the reason a study was likely not done before the construction of the building was because it was the same size and shape of an existing hangar and was no closer than the already existing hangar to the AWOS.

The county says it is working with an airport consultant to alter its airport layout plan to clarify building labels and intends to submit the plan to the FAA within a few months.

Complaints in the FAA letter further alleged that the county “refuses” to plow runways, taxiway, aprons and other aircraft movement areas within a reasonable period and the airport was closed from Jan. 2 to Jan 9.

In response, the commissioners replied that the county endeavors to abide by “Airport Sponsor Assurances” and keeps the safety of the “flying public paramount.”

“The County’s labor resources are limited,” the commissioner wrote, “when a snow event occurs and the protocol is to clear the mainline streets and highways first, then clear the arterial streets then clear the side streets and then the airport…We rely on our Airport Manager to determine whether or not the airport pavements are safe for travel on by aircraft and/or certain airport pavements need to be closed until they can be cleared of snow by County forces. In no way does the County refuse to plow…Our County forces plow the airport pavements when able and within a most reasonable time as possible.”

Commissioners further claimed abnormal precipitation and sub-zero temperature created black ice conditions and that other airports in the area had also been closed for similar time lengths.

The FAA letter says that complaints were reported that hangar tenants have left the airport, resulting in around 70 percent of hangars being empty. Complaints described concern for the number of “based aircraft dropping below 10 which could affect the airport’s qualification for federal grant funding.”

Commissioners replied in their letter than hangars at the airport were roughly 50 percent empty and that the county had more than 10 based aircraft.

“It is out of the County’s control to stop hangar tenants from going elsewhere to store their aircraft,” the commissioner letter reads. “It is the County’s opinion the reason there is a recent drop in hangar occupancy is because certain hangar tenants that have been participating in non-compliant practices at the airport for too many years in the past are now realizing the County is not going to tolerate and allow non-compliant activities to continue. Soon a set of minimum airport standards will be in place that will extinguish these non-compliant activities.”

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.


By Dean Wright