The Federal Aviation Administration will allow commercial passenger planes to fly from Lewiston in spite of a lengthy list of concerns they shared Thursday with airport owners.
Chief among those worries is a void in leadership at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport, which has seen five managers or interim managers in less than five years.
A potential solution the Lewiston City Council agreed to pursue in a vote Thursday after the FAA meeting would make the city the sole manager of the airport. The city owns the airport with Nez Perce County, and both entities appoint representatives to an airport authority board that is responsible for hiring a manager.
Under a proposal by Lewiston City Manager Alan Nygaard that was approved by the city council, city employees will draft a plan for the city to manage the airport through a contract with the airport board.
The new approach, Nygaard said, would require a green light from the airport board – though not from the Nez Perce County Commission – and could be ready in about two weeks.
Under the proposal, the airport would retain its authority board and its manager, who would be a city employee. Other airport employees also would be classified as city staff members.
“It would give some long-term consistency to the operation,” Nygaard said.
But rather than providing more stability at the airport, Nygaard’s idea may ignite a new fight.
“I don’t understand that at all,” Nez Perce County Commission Chairman Douglas Havens said. “How can we be joint owners of the airport and have no say in the management of it?”
Havens attended the FAA meeting and the city council meeting Thursday, but wasn’t present for the council’s decision, which was announced after an executive session.
The city ran the airport for decades until a joint-powers agreement in 2010 established the board that oversees it now.
“Maybe it’s the county’s turn,” Havens said.
The FAA’s visit followed a tumultuous year at the transportation hub. It lost direct flights to Boise and Seattle, which had been provided by Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines. SkyWest continues to fly to Salt Lake City.
Board members came and went, with factions arguing about how much supervision Manager Stephanie Morgan needed. The board then fired her the week before Thanksgiving.
Just after Morgan left, the FAA began investigating markings along a taxiway that were altered at the direction of board member Gary Peters with verbal approval from the FAA.
On Thursday, four FAA officials took a brief look at the airport facility and spent about six hours with airport staff in a conference room, Interim Manager Chris Clemens said.
The FAA officials declined to comment and did not attend Thursday’s council meeting.
The FAA is expected to be back in coming weeks for an in-depth inspection that will examine everything from the condition of the airfield, to coordination between the air traffic control tower and administration, to policies about driving vehicles near taxiways.
“Their eyes are on us, and they’re going to be conducting a thorough review of a lot of things,” said Clemens, who is on a leave of absence from his position on the airport board.
Officials are starting to tackle some of the problems noted by the FAA.
The FAA wants the city of Lewiston to use the airport’s new firefighting truck soon, staffing the truck 15 minutes before and after all commercial flights.
The city of Lewiston had planned to use its present airport firefighting truck to cover early and late-night flights through September to save money, Lewiston Fire Chief Travis Myklebust said.
While the new truck is an upgrade, staffing it requires one person from a three-member crew at a fire station next door to the airport to go to an airport building and not be available for Lewiston Orchard emergencies.
“We have to work within the means of the present budget,” Myklebust said.
Airport officials are beginning to examine the location of six buildings that are too close to taxiways, including one that’s near where markings on a taxiway were altered.
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