Bob Thomas: Making a case that Carson no longer needs an Airport Authority

It's ironic that I, as the originator of the Carson City Airport Authority in 1989, am now calling for its abolition. It has served its purpose. It has outlived its usefulness. Why? Because things are far different today than in 1988.


In 1988, the airport was operated by Carson City. The city manager, Don Hataway, assigned the airport to his assistant city manager, Mike Rody, who shoved it off onto Public Works. That was a cruel joke. Rody personally told me that he wanted no part of overseeing the airport. So in those days the Carson City Airport did not have any kind of manager.


On the airport, we have seven Class One fixed-base operators: Comstock Aviation (my company), Silver Flight, Carson-Tahoe Aviation, Weaver Aircraft, American Warbirds, Sage Air , and El Aero Services. Weaver, Warbirds and El Aero were fairly new. There were fewer than 90 aircraft hangars and no demand for more. The airport was a money loser, but Carson City, being a capital city with a governor and a state legislature, had to have an airport.


About that time, we had some changes in city administration, and Marv Teixeira became mayor. It didn't take him long to figure out that an airport was a royal pain in the tail to elected officials. Public complaints about aircraft noise were many because we had far more aviation activities in those days, thanks to 35-cent-per-gallon fuel, than we have today, even though we now have three times as many aircraft. And those complaints found their way up to the mayor or the supervisors.


I remember when we badly needed new paving for the taxi-ways and the aircraft tie-down (parking) areas. Public Works had no one qualified to write a grant request to the Federal Aviation Administration. The task was dumped on Walt Sullivan, director of Planning and Community Development, who was given two weeks to do a six-week job. Somehow, he got it done and we received the FAA money. The airport was truly a bastard child.


Being a legislator in 1988, I got the idea of creating an Airport Authority using state law, removing all responsibility for running the airport from Carson City, even though Carson City would still own the airport. Mayor Marv and the Board of Supervisors, after much thought and deliberation, agreed, and the Carson City Airport Authority was born by statute. The governing board of the Authority was to consist of seven volunteers with staggered terms, each serving four years, and then off the board for four years before serving again.


The makeup of the board, as prescribed by statute, consists of five aviation people, one citizen at large and one municipal employee appointed by the mayor and supervisors. Almost every fixed-base operator at the airport has served at least once. Over the past 19 years, the airport has steadily grown in self sufficiency, actually becoming self sufficient almost from the beginning of its independence, thanks to volunteerism. Moreover, many millions of FAA dollars in improvements, including surrounding land acquisitions, have been achieved by the Carson City Airport Authority.


But now we have a serious problem. In the past couple of years, some very big money interests have discovered the airport and are taking steps to lease all the remaining airport property. Now, in a way this isn't bad as it would make the airport all the more profitable, but it goes against the policies of the first 16 years of Authority board members, who have tried to fairly limit the amount of property any one operator could have. As a result, we are now witnessing favoritism toward some over others on the part of certain Authority board members.


It is time to nip this business in the bud. Conditions are far different today from what they were in 1988. Our city has matured. It can now handle the airport management right along with its other departments. The big difference, which now makes this preferable, is having an on-site airport manager (which we didn't have in 1988) reporting directly to the Carson City manager, instead of serving at the pleasure of a fickle Authority board that can be and is being manipulated. Reporting directly to the city manager allows the airport manager to be insulated from the prejudices, politics and personal agendas of seven individual Authority board members (seven bosses), without living in fear of losing his or her job, as has recently happened.


Personally, I will feel much better as an airport operator answering directly to Carson City, which actually owns the airport. In fact, all things considered, the airport is probably the city's most valuable asset. I also recommend a five-member Airport Advisory Committee be appointed by the mayor and supervisors as a sounding board directly from airport users and the public.


Times change. There is no longer a need for this added layer of government, the Carson City Airport Authority.


- Bob Thomas, of Carson City, is a former Nevada legislator.

Editor Barry Ginter's column will return next week.

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