Council Approves Changes to Airport Administration
By Jacob Mathias
The Wisconsin Rapids Common Council on Oct. 20 unanimously voted to take over management of the South Wood County Airport after years of contracting outside services.
Management pf the airport is currently contracted by fixed-base operator H.J. Aviation. City leadership voted Monday to open a position for a full-time manager at the airport who would work under the purview of the South Wood County Airport Commission. They say this move will keep more money in the airport and make for better services offered there. The potential increase in business is expected to make the new position financially viable.
The city’s airport commission hopes to make improvements to the airport including upgrades to the lighting and installations to make the facility fully self service. Planes would be able to land at the airport, fuel and use the facilities without the airport needing to be staffed. Due to the small size of the airport and the planes to which it caters, no air traffic control is needed.
“The primary purpose of general aviation airport like ours is to serve an economic development function,” said Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Zachary Vruwink. “To support business activity, to promote the ability for people to fly into our community, do their business and to leave.”
Under the current private contractor management model, the manager operates the airfield but also has full control over things like fuel sales and marketing the airports assets.
“We’re very much missing out on all of the other functions,” said Vruwink. “Insuring the businesses that use our operation also have a top notch experience when they’re visiting our area. We vest that control in a contractor.”
He said the airport is also an infrastructure asset and should be under the city’s maintenance schedule so as to remain operational, safe and up to date.
“The key word is centralization,” said Airport Commissioner Joseph Zurfluh. “This new management system at the airport is going to let the commission basically do what they should be doing…this way we have a point person from the sale of fuel to the condition of runways, to making sure the lawns are mowed all the way to doing the administrative work.”
The city’s job description for airport manager says “the purpose of this position is to manage the daily operation and promotion of the Alexander Field South Wood County Airport. The position supervises all airport personnel and acts as liaison among airport service providers, users, and Airport Commission. Works cooperatively and closely with the State Bureau of Aeronautics and the Federal Aviation Administration.”
The airport administrator will earn between $50,763 and $57,436 per year depending on experience. The job opening will be advertised by the end of the week and interview should begin two weeks later depending on applicant availability.
Current FPO manager Howard Joling said more than one staff member would likely be needed to completely operate the airport.
“This may work. I really don’t know,” said Howard Joling of H.J. Aviation. “You need to look at it carefully. If you look at the list of qualifications and expectations, it would take kind of a superhuman person do all this.”
Airport Commissioner Bill Clendenning said that services from nearby municipalities could provide support in that area. The airport is owned by the municipalities of Wisconsin Rapids, Grand Rapids, Nekoosa and Port Edwards.
“We as commissioners should come up with how we’re going to do that and if our municipalities are going to be involved to cut the costs down,” said Clendenning.
Nearby airports under the same administration style include those in Wisconsin Dells, Stevens Point and Eagle river among many more throughout the state of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Rapids Common Council meets again on November 17 at 6:00 PM. To view the entire airport manager job description, visit www.wirapids.org.