A new job always comes with a learning curve. You need to learn procedures and ways of doing business, as well as determining the needs of your clients. The clients, meanwhile, hopefully will be patient with you. Without proper communication, things can get muddled and tensions rise. This is particularly true of airport management.
At Salem Municipal Airport-McNary Field (SLE) in Salem, Ore., airport officials and hangar tenants are in the first stages of learning to work together, after what one tenant described as years of confusion and poor communication.
Owned by the city, the airport is operated by the Department of Urban Development.
According to SLE hangar tenant Ron Sterba, when Urban Development took over the airport, hangar owners found it difficult, if not impossible, to get their leases renewed beyond a few years. Most of the tenants wanted leases of 10 years or more so that costs can be amortized.
In October Sterba told us, “Many of the leases have expired and owners are now paying month-to-month rent. Sales of hangars are not going through because new owners want to have their hangar amortized out for 20 years and the city won’t give them a lease. We’ve been trying to negotiate with City Hall, but no one seems to want to take the initiative to handle the issue.”
The tenants responded by banding together and attending monthly airport meetings to show airport and city officials that they want to keep their hangars, but only if they had equitable leases.
The tenants were successful. After the November meeting Sterba contacted General Aviation News to let us know that city officials had “thrown out the three- to five-year leases and recommended a 30-year lease with a 10-year option on new construction and we have another work session on old leases.”
Sterba noted that the hangar owners are happy with the city’s response, adding, “I do not think we would have gotten this far unless we had not organized.”
According to Sterba, the hangar issue was particularly frustrating because it seemed that there was confusion at the city level about who was running the airport, due in part to frequent staff turnover.
“We are on our third airport administrator since last December,” he explained.
The newest administrator is John Paskell, who has been on the job since September. Despite being relatively new to Salem, Paskell is not inexperienced as an airport manager. He previously managed Henderson Field at Midway Atoll (PMDY), Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport (IFP) in Bullhead, Ariz., and McMinnville Municipal Airport (MMV) in McMinnville, Ore.
According to Paskell, the hangar lease issue had not been addressed, in part, because the airport was without a manager for several months.
“When Urban Development took over the airport, they didn’t want to renew leases until they got an airport manager in to look at FAA guidances to make sure that we comply with FAA minimum standards,” he explained.
According to Paskell, although the three- to five-year lease renewals have been done away with, the issue has not been officially resolved yet.
Paskell added that city officials are now studying lease agreements from other Oregon airports, including Corvallis, Klamath Falls, and Madras, to help draft guidelines for SLE. “We want to craft a clear, concise message for lease renewals,” said Paskell. Once the template is finished, it must be approved by the City Council. “It won’t be officially resolved until the City Council votes to change the city code and update our leases, but we are mostly done,” he said.
In addition to keeping the tenants happy, airport and city officials must be sure the airport meets minimum standards as set out by the FAA, said Paskell, noting that airports that don’t comply with minimum standards run the risk of losing eligibility for FAA grants that help pay for improvement projects, such as runway extensions. The leases also must comply with the airport’s 20-year Master Plan.
Paskell anticipates the new leases for each individual tenant will be before the city council by February.
Although some of the hangar tenants were under the impression that the non-renewal of leases was a means to push them off the airport, Paskell was quick to correct that impression.
“We have no interest in having hangars revert to Salem Airport ownership,” he stressed. “We have no interest in moving anyone off the airport. We are trying to accommodate everyone, but it is a challenge to put together a policy and lease template that makes sense for where we are today and what will serve us well for the next 20 or 30 years.
“We want tenants to understand that we want them here,” he continued. “We are partners with them. This is not an Us vs. Them situation. Some of the tenants have been on the airport since the 1950s. They want to be able to trust the airport manager.”
Aircraft based at SLE include a variety of GA aircraft, including homebuilts, corporate jets and turboprops, and National Guard helicopters. The business mix includes Garmin International, FBOs and a popular restaurant.
One of Paskell’s responsibilities is to attract more businesses to the airport.
“That is never an easy job and this economy is not helping aviation at all,” he said. “Last spring the City Council decided that the airport was a fantastic asset and should be viewed as a primary development engine. We need to find ways to generate transient traffic in here, and we need new tenants.”
Management is also looking for non-aviation development on land that is owned by the airport outside the air operations area, he said.
“There is a lot we can and can’t do, because we have to be a good neighbor and we have to comply with the FAA,” he added, noting the airport recently put a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) link on its website “and we do a lot of public outreach.”
For more information: FlySalem.com