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"Glendale tightens airport rules to avoid loss of federal funds"



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Glendale tightens airport rules to avoid loss of federal funds
New manager for facility hired
The Arizona Republic


Glendale is shaking up its airport operations as the result of a scathing
Federal Aviation Administration investigation into airport practices.
 
The city has hired a new airport manager and will step up hangar inspections
starting this month.
 
The efforts aim to appease the FAA, which has threatened to cut off federal
funding to the general-aviation airport and declare it non-compliant with
federal airport rules.

The FAA released findings in May that the city violated safety rules by
allowing hangar owners to store items such as classic cars, a motor home and
rolls of carpet instead of aircraft. The FAA also said Glendale had
discriminated against a separate hangar owner, Valley Aviation Services, by
prohibiting similar storage and mandating his lease rates.
 
The FAA sanctions, if imposed, could end federal funding to the airport on
Glendale Avenue west of 99th Avenue. Hundreds of pilots and students use
Glendale Municipal Airport for flights, fueling and aircraft storage each
month, and the city depends on millions each year in federal grants to keep
up the airport.
 
But Glendale officials say they are confident the FAA will accept their plan
to fix problems and will waive punishment.
 
"We don't expect any issue. As our corrective action plan was being drafted,
we were working in consultation with the FAA folks," said Jamsheed Mehta,
Glendale transportation director. "They haven't officially put a seal on it,
but they've certainly accepted this as a good approach for the city."
 
The interim airport manager has a fitting name for the job.
 
Walter Fix replaced former airport administrator Judy Skeen, who was
reassigned to the city's finance department. She worked there previously.
 
Mehta said Fix was well-known for his work at Phoenix's Deer Valley Airport,
Sky Harbor Airport and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
 
He said the city needed a new manager to bring in "an outside view" of
airport operations.
 
"His last name is Fix, and that too made a difference," Mehta joked.
 
Fix's contract, calling for him to work three days a week through December,
is estimated to cost $28,000. His contract may be renewed after that or the
city may hire a permanent airport manager.
 
One of Fix's first tasks will be to coordinate inspections of all hangars by
Sept. 30.
 
Hangar owners have received letters asking them to set up appointments. The
city then plans to schedule inspections once a year and inspect a sampling
of hangars each quarter unannounced.
 
Hangar owners found to be storing non-aviation items will have until Dec. 1
to remove the material, according to the city's plan.
 
Valley Aviation owner Greg Van Houten isn't happy. Van Houten convinced the
FAA to look into the city's lax enforcement and recently won a lawsuit
against Glendale over it.
 
Van Houten complained that the city allowed non-aviation storage in other
people's hangars but not his, driving business away.
 
He won $1.8 million in damages from Glendale. The city spent another
$900,000 to pay law firms and consultants to fight the lawsuit and could pay
about $500,000 for Van Houten's legal bills.
 
After hearing about the plan, Van Houten criticized the city for not
planning to require its own locks on hangars so inspections could be done at
any time as other airports do.
 
Glendale officials can't get into hangars without letting the owners know
ahead of time, he said, and scheduling hangar checks allows pilots to remove
offending items and bring them back.
 
"It's less than sincere (on Glendale's part) unless they are going to have
frequent, unannounced inspections," he said.
 
Van Houten said he may sue Glendale again, saying an accounting firm he
hired found Glendale had overcharged his company to operate hangars by
roughly $400,000 since the 1990s.
 
Van Houten said he filed a notice of claim, which is a precursor to a
lawsuit, 60 days ago. "I haven't heard a word," he said. "They just don't
deal with you. . . . The problems are still not addressed."
 
Mehta said city officials had been "overly liberal" in their interpretation
of federal airport rules but said the airport would get back on track.

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