Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 19, 2018 9:00 a.m.
Confusion exists in the minds of many local citizens over who owns, runs and most importantly, foots the bills for the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport.
Understanding the relationships among the key players is not always easy.
The airport is owned by the city of Fernandina Beach. The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) makes policy decisions, but the Airport Manager, under the direction of the City Manager runs the airport … except for support services to general aviation, which are handled by the fixed-base operator, or FBO.
The Airport Advisory Commission (AAC), which is appointed by and reports to the FBCC, serves in an advisory capacity to Airport Manager and the City Commission regarding the development, operation and betterment of the airport.
And finally, there is the airport consultant, Passero Associates, Inc., which over recent years has provided technical expertise on the Airport Layout Plan and the Airport Master Plan as well as dealing with the FAA and FDOT on behalf of the city in requesting grants and/or seeking permissions and guidance.
Relationships between and among these four entities – city, FBO, consultant and AAC — have evolved over the years as the airport has grown to play a larger role in the Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island community.
The role of the city
Following the city’s acquisition of the airport from the federal government in 1947, nothing much happened for almost 20 years. The airport seemed to rely on its tenants and users for maintenance and operations. Several FBOs came and went. It appears that there was an Airport Enterprise Fund at least as early as 1963. [This funding comes from fees related to the airport’s mission as opposed to tax generated government revenue, which can be spent where needed. Money in the Airport Enterprise Fund, by the same token, is only used for airport purposes.]
Until the late 1990’s the city seemed comfortable leaving most of the heavy lifting with respect to the airport to the Airport Advisory Commission (AAC). At some point, the city’s Director of Public Works began attending AAC meetings, and in 1998, he was named the staff coordinator for the AAC, thereby transitioning much of the AAC’s work to city staff.
But in 2001 it became apparent that there was a need for a full-time, professional airport manager. For budget reasons, the city manager demurred, instead adding the duties of airport manager to those of the city’s Grants Administrator. The duty also briefly passed to the city’s Golf Pro and the city’s Maintenance Director.
It wasn’t until January 2008 that the city hired its first full time Airport Manager. Upon his departure, the position remained unfilled for budgetary reasons with the City Manager assuming those duties.
Today the city once more has a full-time airport manager, Nathan Coyle, who took over the position in August 2017. Coyle has invested much time and effort in building good relationships with the other major players at the airport.
In response to a question on the role of the city today at the airport, he responded, “As the airport sponsor, the City of Fernandina Beach is charged with ensuring safe airport operating environment in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. Our broader role is to provide technical expertise and guidance to our airport community/tenants and City Commission to produce an airport that meets the needs and vision of the community, normally as outlined within our airport’s master plan.
“I believe the City (specifically, the airport manager) also has the responsibility to work toward a fair commercial environment for our airport businesses, and to help, where possible, our airport businesses find success in their operation at the airport through provision of good service to our users and the public. Fernandina Beach has a wonderful asset in its airport, and I hope we can protect this asset and continue its trend of improving service to the aviation community.”
The role of the FBO
Coyle explained what the FBO does for the aviation community at the airport. He wrote, “[Bent Wing Flight Services] will operate as the airport’s fixed base operator providing services to pilots and the general public for fueling of aircraft, transient aircraft parking, and car rental services at the airport. The FBO also often provides a comfortable place to accommodate pilots who are preparing for a flight and for any passengers who might be transiting through the airport.
“As mentioned above, FBOs work very closely with airport owners/sponsors as FBOs are most often the face of the airport, and airports have an interest in helping their FBOs become and remain successful. I look forward to continuing our great relationship with Eight Flags Aviation. I believe Eight Flags Aviation has been a great partner in construction of the new terminal building and in preparation for services that the agency will provide to the airport.”
The role of the airport consultant – Passero Associates
Just as ATM serves as the city’s consultant with respect to the city marina, Passero Associates also works closely with the city on airport matters. Andrew Holesko, Passero’s Vice President and Project Director, said in a recent email, “The City of Fernandina is a “special place” to Passero, one that we sincerely care for. Our Florida operation started in Fernandina, in a single airport office, in 1999. We based our operation in Fernandina for 7 years, before relocating to accommodate our growing staff. As long as the City wishes, we will continue to provide exceptional service, and stand openly and honestly before the commission and any group that is needed, if it “helps” the City meet its project and community goals.
Coyle wrote: “Passero Associates currently serves as the airport’s architectural, engineering, and planning consultants. FDOT and FAA both “require” the airport (and/or airport consultant) to provide proper planning, design and construction-phase services in accordance with specific regulations and advisories. Airports, large and small, therefore hire one (or more) consultants to support airport development, to operate in compliance with planning-design-construction project and grant assurances. Airports work closely with their selected consultant engineers to plan and build projects to meet the needs of the airport.
“Consultant firms, much like Passero, often also provide a wealth of general aviation and airport knowledge to assist with questions and/or to often act as a sounding board for their respective airport managers. Passero, and other consultant firms, also carry long-standing relationships with many regulating agencies, such as the FAA and FDOT, to assist with project coordination and discussions regarding airport needs. This continuity has proven helpful with the turnover this airport has faced over the years in the airport management role.
“In my short time here I have been impressed with Passero’s professional management of the ongoing terminal project and eagerness to help plan and seek grant funding in support of future airport needs. I am also very grateful for the significant amount of time Passero has provided to outline the history of the airport and its past/future projects, which allowed me to hit the ground running in my role as airport manager.”
Since 1999 Passero has assisted the city on many projects. Below is a partial list of grants that they have helped the city obtain:
The role of the Airport Advisory Commission (AAC)
It wasn’t until the first Airport Master Plan was developed and approved in 1975 that the airport we know today began to take shape. That plan called for the creation of an Airport Advisory Commission (AAC). Members appointed to the AAC had an understanding of general aviation needs and requirements and helped the city commissioners and the city manager understand the needs and priorities of the city’s airport. Members of the first AAC included: Gordon Dressler, Joel Embry, Laura Farmer, Pat O’Connor, Steve Simmons, Charles Wall and Billy Ray Watkins.
Prior to the city’s hiring an airport manager, the AAC played a critical role in airport development, both as a functioning general aviation airport and as a profit-making arm of the city. This committee in its early years was a hands-on group of volunteers that dealt with regulatory bodies, engineers, and budgets. They handled airport inspections.
Today’s AAC is equally committed to insuring the success of the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport. Current members include: Chair Chuck Colcord, Vice Chair Aaron Morgan, David Austin, Paul Behan, Don Edlin, George Haffer, and Kent McKee. Vice Mayor Len Kreger serves as FBCC liaison to the AAC. Colcord wrote, “The AAC’s role is to advise and make recommendations to the city commission as specified in City of Fernandina Beach ordinance 2014-05. There are six items specified and five of them start with the words, ‘Make recommendations.’ The last item kind of says it all: ‘Perform all acts requested by the City Commission to advise and assist in the continued operation and betterment of the airport.’
“All members of the AAC are volunteers that serve with pleasure to help the airport. We all have varied aviation backgrounds and close connections to Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport. We all want to do our part to make the airport successful.”
Colcord went on to say, “I can only speak to what I see as the current state of affairs [in working with the city, the FBO and the consultant]. In my mind there is an atmosphere of teamwork, cooperation with a bright outlook for the future. The airport city staff are doing an outstanding job managing the many on-going projects as well as regular airport business. The City Commission is supportive of the airport and rightly asks questions and requests information to make decisions about the airport. In my view, the ACC works well with all of the organizations and has a good relationship with all involved parties.
‘There have obviously been some unsettling times with the current and future FBO operators but I think that turbulence will dissipate in the future as the transition takes place. From my AAC perspective of Passero, they provide quality and professional engineering services to the airport and city. I have found them to be responsive and knowledgeable.”
Coyle expressed his gratitude to the members of the AAC. “ I completely agree with Mr. Colcord’s outlook/perspective. We are very lucky to have an impressive group of volunteers on our AAC who all carry unique and extensive experience within aviation. I have been grateful for their strong deliberation and recommendations to the City Commission, and for their willingness to provide recommendations to me on other airport matters which may not reach the commission.”
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.