By Owen Maloy
On January 24, the Mammoth Lakes Airport Commission saw for the first time a proposed Airport capital improvement plan created by consultant Reinhard Brandley. This plan appears to be a proposal for projects that would use Mr. Brandley’s engineering services. Analysis by Stephen Kalish reveals that only about a quarter of the projects have anything to do with improving the airport to meet FAA standards.
The plan was transmitted to the FAA, as an official town document without any Town approval, on January 11, almost two weeks before the Commission saw it. The plan includes about $50 million in total expense, with a Town share of $3.8 million.
Airport Manager Bill Manning presented this document as something that the FAA had demanded, without justification. The FAA does ask for this each year, but Mammoth is on a July-June fiscal year and is just beginning to develop this year’s plan. What the FAA was given was fiction. The FAA has been notified that the document should be ignored.
There are two serious problems here. First is the extraordinary impropriety of this unauthorized action. If I had a contractor for my business who submitted a proposal to my customer over my head on my stationery, neither that contractor nor any colluding employees would ever work for me again. Most companies would have such people escorted out of the building by security.
Second, the action violates state law, because it proposed an airport expansion without Council and Airport land Use Commission approval. The law prohibits any construction without an approved plan.
The FAA will not grant improvement funds without an approved Airport Layout Plan. It will take months at the current pace before the deficiencies in the present draft plan are corrected. The the FAA will then need a master plan and expansion proposals that comply with FAA standards. The Town has never managed to provide a compliant plan.
Until these plans are complete and approved, the Town need not worry about having to spend any money at the airport. Nothing will happen. Those who hope for such things as a new terminal will be disappointed unless the Town learns to manage the airport properly, including compliance with FAA regulations and tracking of grant funds. The Airport Commission needs an Executive Director and secretary. The staff needs an independent and experienced program manager, not another committee, to direct the planning work. Policy contacts with the FAA need Airport Commission review.
Finally, the Town needs to correct the misplacement of all hangars, especially the east hangars, renegotiate new land leases, and move the hangars to make room for the airport improvements required for modern aircraft. Don’t want to bother? Then be happy with minimal air service and a makeshift terminal.