Sunday, September 18, 2016

Airport management is matter of life and death: 'Low ceiling' on salary clouds airport's future

By Bernard P. Giroux

The controversy surrounding what should be paid an airport manager at the New Bedford Regional Airport is typical of the shortsightedness involved, and which many cities and towns exhibit, in managing a complex operation such as an airport. This airport post is not a sinecure, it is an active management position requiring not only in-depth operational experience, but also intimate knowledge of the very complex Federal Aviation Administration regulations governing not only airport operations, but air traffic control and other mundane matters regarding airport safety.

In addition, there is a lot of planning and coordination required to obtain and maintain a steady flow of federal and state funding, much needed in this type of environment. The airport is not just a "New Bedford" possession. It just happens to be sited in New Bedford. It services a wide region and is part of the air traffic system that surrounds it and which it is a part of. The airport is a destination location for flights and acts as a point of flight origination. It also figures into the Homeland Security activities in the region. It supports the economy of the city.

To argue that the airport manager has to be from the city of New Bedford is ridiculous. To argue that the airport manager's salary cannot be "unfair" to other city employees is outrageous. There may be no more complex job in this city's system, except perhaps running the water and sewer departments, maybe. To argue about salary and to insult a qualified potential management candidate by offering the candidate less than what the candidate is currently earning is insulting, to say the least.

This attitude is dangerous; it is dangerous because it involves the lives of the public. In 2007, three people were killed in a crash on a night approach to New Bedford during particularly low visibility, rainy conditions. Their lives might have been saved if the "rabbit" had been lit for the final approach to Runway 6. The fact that the system was turned off, under FAA orders, was related to funding for, and regulations concerning, vegetation cutting along the approach end of the runway.

This is why New Bedford needs an experienced airport manager at the helm and the community should not be relying on airport control by locals who really know little about aviation management. Just because an applicant is not from New Bedford or wants a salary that should be commensurate with the level of responsibility for this type of position should not mean a candidate should be dismissed. The New Bedford City Council's actions seem to be biased and unreasonable.

Bernard P. Giroux is a commercial pilot and former naval aviator. He lives in Dartmouth.


Our View: 'Low ceiling' on salary clouds airport's future

Only two New Bedford city councilors voting the other way could have changed Monday’s vote to reject a top-level salary for a qualified, experienced, local assistant manager at the New Bedford Regional airport.

The council voted 7-4 Monday night, with the 7 hoping to send a message to taxpayers and residents that they’re looking out for them by watching the budget and giving locals preference for city jobs.

Instead, the candidate, a Lakeville resident with an aviation management degree from Bridgewater State University, nine years of experience at Logan International Airport, and a willingness to take a $14,000 per year cut to move his job from BOS to EBD, had to say no to the opportunity, because the council wanted the out-of-towner to start at the lowest step, a further loss to the candidate of $12,000 per year.

The sentiment of one councilor was that granting the top level of pay and a permanent residency waiver, as recommended by the chairman of the Airport Commission (who has been overseeing operations as a volunteer since the recent departure of the previous manager), would be unfair to other city employees and taxpayers alike.

While residency requirements and pay ranges provide important guidelines, the facts as presented Monday night appear to argue clearly that this time the best thing for both employees and taxpayers would have been to grant the chairman’s request.

This is the second rejection of an offer from the city by a prospective assistant manager for the airport, the first being a city resident who found the salary to be too low.

The “unfairness” might be felt just as sharply by the two candidates, one for the inadequate pay structure, and one for the added insult of assuming one’s commitment to the city of New Bedford can be adequately measured by their home address. Monday's candidate, in obtaining his degree from Bridgewater State, is likely very familiar with this city's airport.

The fallout of the vote includes the projected expense of contracting these management services, perhaps at double the cost of the salary offered Monday night, and no guarantee of local residency whatsoever.

A further consequence comes in the push for more passengers, for if the 7,000 passengers boarding annually here were to increase by nearly half again, the airport would be eligible for $1 million from the Federal Aviation Administration, up from the current $150,000.

One never knows … the loss of the opportunity for both the candidates and the airport may lead to better opportunities in the long run. If the city eventually attracts someone who can get the airport above that FAA threshold of 10,000 passengers, that would be the silver lining for this cloud, but it’s less likely to happen until issues of pay and residency are addressed case by case by the council, with an eye to the future, and not as mere “hot-button issues” to conveniently send a message.


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