Thursday, January 05, 2012

Meriden fires airport operator: Meriden Markham Municipal Airport (KMMK), Connecticut

Jeff Price, airport manager, stands next to a Cessna 182 parked at Meriden Markham Airport Wednesday January 4, 2012. The city has taken over control of Meriden-Markham Airport after terminating its contract with its most recent operator last month.

MERIDEN - The city has taken control of Meriden-Markham Airport after terminating its contract with its most recent operator last month.

City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said that Meriden Aviators, which signed a five-year contract with the city in June 2010, failed to meet several requirements set by the agreement, such as paying for snow removal.

"There were some issues with his performance," Kendzior said. "It was pretty clear he wasn't going to meet those benchmarks."

Finding a new operator for the 157-acre airport, which straddles the Wallingford border along Evansville Avenue, could prove difficult. Meriden Aviators was the only company to respond to a request for proposals from new operators in 2010.

For now, day-to-day operations will fall to a crew led by Ron Price, whose company, QED Airport and Aviation Consultants, was hired Dec. 1 to manage the airport on an interim basis.

Price said that the airport has been slow since the change of hands, mostly because the previous manager left a massive fuel tank empty, and took other amenities such as a flight school with him. The fuel tank is expected to be filled by mid-month, and companies have already begun issuing proposals for maintenance work and another flight academy.

"People have heard that the airport is without these services, and they are contacting us," he said.

Before 2010, the airport was operated by the same company for close to two decades. To have it turn over so quickly this time was disheartening, according to Price, especially since Meriden Aviators' owner Arian Prevalla appeared to have grand plans for it, including a proposed deal with a skydiving company that has likely been dashed.

"It's always disappointing when you go into a contract with someone in good faith and it doesn't work out," he said. "But it's not the end of the world."

Prevalla was also responsible for moving Connecticut Flight Academy from Brainard Airport in Hartford to Meriden, and had announced plans to develop an air-taxi service to nearby destinations like Martha's Vineyard or Montreal, although that never materialized.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved a $150,000 budget for the airport. It will have no impact on the city's operating budget or general fund, but will simply utilize the airport's own revenue to cover fuel, maintenance and other operating expenses.

Councilor Walter A. Shamock Jr. said he had little choice but to vote in favor of the budget, but urged Kendzior and Purchasing Director Wilma Petro to act quickly to find a new operator.

"I certainly don't want to be in the business of running an airport," he said.

Petro said she will take stock of revenue and expenses at the airport over the next three to six months before accepting proposals from new operators. It will likely take close to a year before a new company can take over, and it could be even longer before a viable entity can be found.

"It's difficult, in my view, to attract a qualified and sufficiently capitalized operator for such a small airport," said Price. "We don't want a repeat of what just happened."

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