County seeks flightpath to work with potential manager

Aircraft parked at Minden-Tahoe Airport.

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

One thing both a potential candidate to manage Minden-Tahoe Airport and members of the Airport Advisory Council definitely agree on are that interim operators Heather and Jeff MacDonnell are doing a good job.

Last week, OE Airports Owner Rod Hightower spoke to Douglas County commissioners about the committee’s rejection of his proposal to manage the airport.

“Everything I’ve heard is that they’re killing it in a great way,” Hightower said at the Sept. 21 meeting. “Outstanding on the maintenance, outstanding on the operation. They’ve made the whole world different by treating (airport users) like humans.”

When asked, Hightower said he felt the key reason the airport committee rejected his contract was that they feared losing the couple that has been running the airport since May.

“They do not want to see you guys go away,” he said to the couple. “They love what you’ve done and how you’ve done it has been exemplary.”

Where airport users were eager to have a contract in March, that might no longer be the case.

“(That) night was a rough start,” Hightower told commissioners. “I walked in (Sept. 11) and it didn’t feel very good because everything had changed dramatically.”

The committee voted 7-0 to recommend commissioners reject the five-year, $5 million contract with Hightower’s company.

“I think the members of this airport advisory council are experienced pilots and they know what they want, and they know they have everything they need except for the regulatory part and the compliance part,” Hightower said. “That’s what they are missing the most. Heather and Jeff have done a great job of everything else.”

The MacDonnells are both county employees. Heather works for the Douglas County finance department and Jeff is fleet & facilities manager.

The couple took over operating the airport in May after former manager ABS Aviation announced it was leaving after 13 years.

Chief Financial Officer Terri Willoughby said there was a question early on whether the county should scrap the process, but that the county decided to let it play out.

“There is a lot of work to be done at the airport,” she said. “If it was to be run by the county, we would have to create job descriptions and open the positions up for recruitment.”

One concern commissioners expressed was for the military demonstration shows conducted by the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.

Hightower said that someone should contact them and determine whether the teams are interested in returning or a reason why not.

County commissioners voted to direct staff to explore where Hightower could contribute to the operation and come back with a new contract.

Commission Chairman Mark Gardner made it clear that commissioners don’t want to expand the airport. While the airport master plan includes a proposal for extending the runway and a tower, that likely will change when the plan is next revisited.

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