Airport board looks to avoid losing service
December 1, 2009
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
The local airport board is holding a public meeting early Thursday to look for ideas on how to meet federal requirements. Failure to do so could could result in losing local airline service. “It could mean we wouldn't have an airline, and if we lose it, it would never come back,” Bob Breum, Havre City-County Airport board chair, said Monday. A meeting will begin at Havre City Hall at 7 a.m. Thursday to try to find ways to meet the requirements. “Hopefully, we can come up with some solutions,” he said. Breum said the Federal Aviation Administration has sent a letter to the airport saying it is not in compliance with some parts of federal requirements. The letter gives a deadline at the end of this month to correct many of the deficiencies. While some of the problems in the report already have been corrected, Breum said, some will require an increase in staffing the airport can't afford under its budget. “The biggest thing is we need more people out there and money,” Breum said. “We're like everybody else, we don't have money.” The requirements include having staff members at the airport for security, inspections, snow removal and fire protection. “In order to meet all that, we just have to have the manpower to do it, he said. The airport now is staffed by its manager, a position which Havre's mayor-elect Tim Solomon is filling while permanent manager Bill Arvin is deployed to Iraq. Breum added that the work done at the airport has been excellent, despite the letter sent by the FAA. “Personally, I think the airport is in the best shape it's ever been,” he said. Breum said that unless the airport meets all federal requirements which have been increasing over the years the worse-case scenario would be losing its classification allowing airline service. Havre already experienced that last year, when the company that had been providing the federally subsidized Essential Air Service to Havre, Big Sky Airlines, canceled its service and went out of business. Great Lakes Airlines of Wyoming then was awarded the contract for Montana, but was unable to provide flights at first, citing increasing costs and difficulty finding pilots and aircraft. It began service in Havre in February, moving up to running two flights a day in April most days of the week. Monica Taylor of Great Lakes Airlines said that, from February through October, the airline has transported 544 passengers on the Havre route. The route had a high of 91 passengers in August. Total ridership In November was not available this morning. Community leaders have said keeping the service is crucial for the future of the area. “The airport is vital to community growth,” Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, said Monday. Vandeberg said the air service is used by local business people to make it to meetings, used by residents as a means of transportation, and is an important asset for employers trying to recruit workers. The budget for the airport generally runs through grants, leases and fees. The budget for fiscal year 2009-10 is set at almost $337,000, with $230,000 of that from an FAA grant for runway improvements and maintenance. Other income includes hangar rentals, leases and crops harvested from airport land the crops did not provide as much as hoped for this year, Breum said. Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette, who sits on the airport board, said the city and county do provide some money for the airport budget, although it is a small percentage. That includes each entity providing $3,500 for this year's budget to provide a match for grant funding. Bessette said the county has budgeted $13,089 in property tax revenue for airport expenses, or .43 of one mill. The county also has budgeted $4,079 in non-tax revenues, which includes oil and gas royalties. This year, those revenues have gone down and still could decrease, she added. She said the airport board can find money, such as through the state Aeronautics Board, although that typically is for specific projects. “There are other ways of digging up money, but we always have to pay it back,” Bessette said.