PITTSFIELD — The City Council is asking for a study of Pittsfield Municipal Airport operations, including whether it is cost-effective for the city to continue managing the facility.
A petition from Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers, Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell and Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo seeking the review was unanimously approved Tuesday and forwarded to Mayor Linda M. Tyer.
"I will form a study group to explore airport operations, including a review of costs and potential new revenue," the mayor said Wednesday. "I have not yet finalized a roster of members, but I have given it some thought. I recently met with the Airport Manager Robert Snuck, chairman of the Airport Commission Chris Pedersen, and the airport Inspector Brian Spencer."
Tyer added, "I learned quite a bit and was very pleased that they have already developed new ideas for improved airport operations. The study committee will be an excellent conduit for bringing airport stakeholders to the table for a comprehensive discussion."
Connell and Mazzeo said they have raised questions in the past about the cost-effectiveness of city management of the airport off Tamarack Road, and they advocated a study by a task force group.
"Councilor Mazzeo and myself started this because it became very apparent that revenue, in my opinion, has been insufficient" to sustain airport operations, Connell said.
The biggest fiscal issue, he said, involves the money borrowed by the city as its share for runway upgrades and other projects, which are not reflected in the airport budget itself but fall within the overall city budget. That aspect of the operation "doesn't ever end," Connell said, adding that he sees limited revenue potential for the airport despite recent expansion projects.
"What I am looking for basically is, is it cost-effective for the city to operate the airport?" Mazzeo said.
She said a major study focus should be whether to privatize the airport or look to one of the other management models for airports in the state.
Rivers, who is serving her first term as Ward 5 councilor, said, "I am not wedded to any particular outcome. I am looking for information."
She said a task force review should look at staffing, operations, outstanding leases and other aspects of airport management.
"I have heard many concerns from residents," Rivers said, mentioning ongoing National Guard training flights and wetlands issues involving areas surrounding the airport.
Saying she wants to learn "how it was allowed to operate in default," Rivers said she would like the study to determine whether the facility is an "undue hardship for the city."
Commission Chairman Pedersen said Wednesday that he would participate in a study if asked. Concerning the idea of changes to the management of the airport, Pedersen said the city has made a long-term commitment to the Federal Aviation Administration and state agencies relative to grant funding for a $21 million, decadelong upgrade project that concluded last year.
In receiving significant grant funding, often more than 95 percent through the FAA and state grants, Pederson said Pittsfield agreed to maintain the improvements over the 20- to 30-year life span of runway and other upgrades.
The upgrades were required by the FAA to meet current safety regulations for many types of aircraft. A major component of the work was extending runway surface and adding to safety zones at each end of the runway area.
Without the improvements, Pedersen said, "fewer and fewer aircraft could land there."
As for increasing revenue for the airport, he said that, with the major upgrade work concluding, the commission and Snuck, who began as manager in November, believe they'll have more time to focus on new sources of revenue. A master plan process also will begin next year involving the FAA and will focus on areas of future development at the airport site, such as additional hanger space, Pedersen said.
More immediate revenue generation ideas include fly-in events involving aviation groups and car shows, both designed in part to involve the public more with the facility, he said.