Advisors wave off airport management hopeful

Aircraft parked at Minden-Tahoe Airport on Monday night.

Aircraft parked at Minden-Tahoe Airport on Monday night.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.

Members of the Airport Advisory Committee voted 7-0 against recommending a five-year $5 million contract to manage Minden-Tahoe Airport on Monday.

St. Louis, Mo., firm O.E. Airports was seeking a recommendation from the committee before going to Douglas County commissioners.

Committee Chairman Al Browne said firm principal Rod Hightower did a great presentation.

“I believe the committee came away impressed with his knowledge and his ability to communicate some of the more complex issues of running an airport,” Browne said on Tuesday morning. “But throughout the meeting, not one Douglas County resident indicated they wanted OE Airports to run the airport. The committee listened. And the committee decided to recommend that the Board of County Commissioners reject the contract.”

It’s possible that county commissioners could vote to hire Hightower, over the committee’s objections, though that seems unlikely. Hightower said he would help the airport in the future with the search.

“The presentation was so impressive that the door was left open with Mr. Hightower, who when asked indicated he would be glad to help our airport by providing third-party, county-unaffiliated oversight for whatever management structure the county decides will eventually run the airport. I look forward to possibly working with him in the future,” Browne said.

The firm would replace ABS Aviation, which canceled its contract with the county in May after learning officials were shopping for new management. ABS’ Airport Manager Bobbie Thompson operated the airport for 13 years.

Heather MacDonnell has served as acting airport manager for the past four months while her husband, Jeff, has been in charge of airport operations.

Airport committee members have praised the work done at the airport by the MacDonnells, but they both have other jobs with the county.

Firm Principal Rod Hightower said he would relocate to Minden for six or more months to get things rolling while he hires and trains staff.

Hightower’s presented plan included bringing on four full-timers, including a manager, office manager, maintenance supervisor, maintenance technician in addition to himself. He would then evaluate the current staff, retain some and hire new.

He said an airport operating plan would be done in 90 days and community engagement and marketing would occur in the first 120 days.

“My observations of this airport are that it has experienced some neglect and deferred maintenance in several key areas,” Hightower wrote. “These will need to be remedied in order to meet the expectations of airport stakeholders and a priority should be to get the airport in good functional order and ensure preparation for each of the airport’s seasonal requirements in terms of safety, functionality, comfort and appearance.”

Built 81 years ago during World War II when the U.S. government was con-structing inland airfields in preparation for an invasion of the mainland, the airport is one of the main glider facilities in the world. OE Airports is a new firm having formed in 2022.

He listed the Vermilion County Regional Airport in Danville, Ill., as the most recent reference. According to news accounts he took over for the manager there, who was suspended in 2022 by airport board members and then resigned.

County commissioners could still approve the contract.


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