Saturday, April 21, 2012

Airport manager: We are working to fix deficiencies - Monroe Regional (KMLU), Louisiana

The Federal Aviation Administration will not be taking any legal action against the Monroe Regional Airport, even though FAA officials identified at least six discrepancies with FAA safety certifications and operations standards at Monroe's commercial airport.

That’s because the current airport management has exhibited a "positive attitude and commitment" to bringing the airport into compliance, wrote safety inspector Richard Middleton on April 11.

According to the letter, FAA officials found the airport didn't always conduct the required self-inspections, some airport maintenance staff didn't have the skills or knowledge required of their fields, airport markings weren't properly maintained, and the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting vehicle wasn't fully functional.

The FAA has set deadlines by which the airport is to have these issues remedied, and some of them have already been corrected, the letter notes.

"In consideration of the various circumstances, we have elected not to pursue legal action against MLU at this time," Middleton wrote.

Those various circumstances relate to the shift in management that the airport experienced late last year, after then-airport manager Cleve Norrell was let go from his position.

The letter attributes some of the deficiencies, such as the staff's insufficient knowledge or skills of airport marking and maintenance, to the previous leadership.

"While the airport's maintenance personnel were aware of the maintenance standards dictated by the prior airport manager, there were not well-versed on the actual standards required by part 139 or guidance found in the FAA Advisory Circulars," the letter states.

But Norrell on Thursday said he did carry out the necessary training, and his staff were able to answer the FAA officials' questions in previous inspections, though some staff members may have been shy or hesitant. He said he's not sure if the training continues to be conducted under the new management.

"Under my administration, we would have people from my office conduct certain classes for them," Norrell said. He also said the signs which were noted as deficient were remedied under his administration. If they have been worn down since he left, it's up to the new management to update them, he said.

Interim airport manager Ron Phillips said he notified FAA officials of the deficiencies as soon as he came on board as manager of the airport.

Middleton confirmed that FAA officials were briefed of the shuffle in management during the transition at the airport and that some records were not available.

First, the director of operations, Richard Nelson, left the airport in March 2011, so the maintenance supervisor, James Freeman, took over the responsibilities of both positions, according to information airport officials gave the FAA. In November 2011, Norrell was relieved of his duties, following which then-marketing director Ron Phillips took the post. A new director of operations, Steve Burdeau, was brought on board, and then Freeman left in December.

"We have given consideration to all available facts and concluded that this matter does not warrant legal action at this time," Middleton concluded.

Mayor Jamie Mayo said he was disappointed over the report city officials received.

"Quite frankly those tendencies that were demonstrated by our previous director are some of which led to us going in a different direction," Mayo said. "We have aggressively started working on those deficiencies. Some of them have already been corrected."

Middleton's letter notes that was indeed the case, with some of the issues fixed during the FAA officials' three-day visit in March.

For instance, markings, signs and lighting which had faded and didn't have the reflective media --that had been written up during last year's part 139 inspection-- were corrected before FAA officials left on March 16. Additionally, the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting vehicle for which the turret was stuck in the stream position and couldn't be turned into a fog spray was fixed within an hour of the discrepancy being noted, the letter states. Finally, the self-inspections, which should have been completed by Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting crews on weekends and holidays twice a day, are now being conducted, Middleton's letter states.

"The FAA has many standards and guidelines that we have to adhere to,” Mayo agreed. “We cannot deviate from those standards and guidelines because when they come to do the inspections, that's what they're going evaluate.”

Phillips said he and his staff are working diligently to address and correct the remaining items listed in the report.

"The present management staff is working to change the culture of the organization," he said. "We are establishing a training program for our maintenance personnel working to bring our maintenance personnel up to standards established by the FAA."

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