Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Possible changes in sight for Victoria Regional Airport

Some changes at the Victoria Regional Airport are preparing for takeoff.

The Victoria County Airport Commission and Victoria County commissioners are considering rewriting the charter for the airport and how it is managed.

The two groups met last week in a closed-door meeting that lasted more than three hours to discuss updating a 1952 resolution authorizing the creation of the airport commission.

They also discussed its contract with the Prautes Corp., a consulting firm that manages the Victoria Regional Airport. The firm's contract with Victoria County is up for renewal.

"In the eyes of the airport commission, the 1952 charter needs to be upgraded," said airport commission chairman S.F. "Trey" Ruschhaupt. "We're also going to consider other firms for the airport's management."

Ruschhaupt said last week's talks were preliminary and there was not a timeline for the process.

Prautes answers to two bosses, the airport commission and the Victoria County Commissioners Court, which at times made for a dysfunctional and inefficient management environment, Ruschhaupt said.

He said the airport's charter would need to be revisited to address the airport's current management structure.

The airport commission also would solicit requests for proposals from other airport management firms. Prautes also would be able to submit a bid to the commission, Ruschhaupt said.

"It's a healthy process," Jason Milewski, a co-owner of Prautes, said about the possibility of the county soliciting bids from other firms. "It's in the public's best interest."

Along with Prautes, Milewski has a separate company, ClearedDirect, which provides baggage handling services to Texas Sky, the air service provider at the Victoria airport.

Milewski said he agreed with the airport commission's call to update the airport's charter.

"It's time. There are many things in the charter that are not in line with the realities of running an airport today," he said. "For example, the concept of professional management did not exist in the early 1950s."

Milewski said the fact that the Victoria Regional Airport is not a self-sustaining and self-funded entity was also an issue.

"The airport's not like the Port of Victoria, which is a taxing entity," he said.

The airport commission's role in overseeing the airport and with the Victoria County Commissioners Court being the main source of funding for the airport made for a complicated management environment, he said.

Milewski said he was working to get the airport to sustainability. He said the airport's deficits have continuously been reduced since Prautes began managing it.

But not everyone agrees a change is needed.

"I don't want to change the charter," said Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Burns. "I like the charter."

He said the airport needs the best and most efficient management. He said he wants to fast-track the request for proposals for airport management.

"I have no problem with Fred (Watts, the airport manager), but I would have liked for us to have a say in who Jason (Milewski) hires at the airport, but as it is, legally we have no say," Burns said.

Burns said ideally, the airport manager should be a county employee.

"I would prefer a department head managing the airport," he said.

Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller said the county planned to post the airport manager position.

Burns said the Commissioners Court needed to be kept more informed about the airport's operational status and its finances. He also said he was concerned about the amount of time Milewski spends on other clients as well as his ability to efficiently manage the Victoria Regional Airport.

"The only time I knew of anything going on over there was at board meetings," Burns said. "When we hired Jason, I was under the impression he would be our direct manager."

Burns said the extensive aviation expertise on the airport commission was not being tapped effectively by Prautes or the county.

More clarity about the county's and commission's expectations for airport management was also expected during the charter review, Burns said.

"I'm as much to blame as anybody for this," he said.

Source:  https://www.victoriaadvocate.com

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