The city of Winslow has been looking to make some changes at the Winslow Lindbergh Airport, and some of those changes include finding a new Fixed Base Operator, to service, fuel, store, maintain and repair visiting and residential aircraft. The current FBO, Norm Stewart, said he no longer wants to run the Winslow airport because it is not a profitable operation for him.
A city-appointed airport review committee recently turned down the only two applicants. James Turrell, a multimillionaire and internationally renowned artist, is backing one of those applicants Clear Creek Aviation.
City Administrator Jim Ferguson said that it is very important to see to it that there is continued service at the airport.
"The City spends a lot of grant money out there to keep that airport open and we cannot afford to not let it be taken care of appropriately," Ferguson said.
Since the airport is rural and an important stop for Forest Service tankers and medical emergency flight operations, it is eligible and has received grants from the FAA.
The City sent out a request for qualifications with the expectation it could find an FBO to not only operate the airport, but that could hopefully serve the community and City better in an auxiliary and complimentary function by helping increase business at the airport.
Other than Clear Creek Aviation, the other applicant was Jerry's Aircraft Maintenance. Clear Creek Aviation produced a financial statement that totaled in the million of dollars, while Jerry's Aircraft Maintenance produced a photo copied ATM bank statement. Both groups formed specifically to become the FBO for the Winslow airport.
The City put together a review committee to consider the applicants. Its members are: Ken Ogilvie, chairman of the Winslow Airport Commission and pilot; Jim Weldon, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission and pilot; Jerry Sullivan of the Forest Service; Mac McCaul, manager of the Sedona Airport; and Bob Mansell, Winslow Unified School District superintendent and pilot with a plane stored in the Winslow airport hangar.
The review committee suggested to Council that another RFQ be sent out with another 90 days to allow other FBOs to respond because the committee did not like the two applicants that they received.
"I do not believe the committee felt that either one of them met the expectations of the airport to do a quality job," McCaul said. "Running an FBO is a specialized field. The committee and myself did not believe they had the background for doing that."
According to Ogilvie, neither one of the applicants had enough experience to make them desirable candidates.
"What if the same criteria had been applied to me at La Posada? Mayor Allan Affeldt said. "And I had never operated a hotel before."
Clear Creek Aviation, though not an FBO, proposed to bring in five of its own paid employees to beyond mechanics and fueling offer flight instruction, operate tours and charters and build an aircraft museum.
Ogilvie told City Council in his recommendation that Clear Creek Aviation was a front for a rich collector who did not bother to show up for the interview.
"He expects the city of Winslow to give him the hangar, kick-out the planes that are sheltered there to put in his own small aircraft collection and to call it a museum," Ogilvie said.
Affeldt responded, "Mr. Turrell is a very wealthy gentleman. He's a private airplane collector. He has a dozen planes. He's has been a pilot his entire life. Within his collection, he has the plane from Casa Blanca and Howard Hughes's original Harlow plane. This is a multimillion-dollar and very significant collection. Whether or not that qualifies him to run an FBO was not the point of the application. He wasn't saying he just wanted to have museum. If someone with that kind of resources wants to invest in Winslow, then the last thing we need to be doing is calling him names and telling him to get out of town."
Another point Affeldt mentioned was who else would want to come into Winslow to be the FBO since this airport has never turned a profit?
Councilman Harold Soehner, also a pilot, said that the Winslow airport has turned some small profit at times, but that is dependent on the forest fire fighting season to increase fuel sales.
Stewart, the current FBO, said that Winslow alone can not sustain the airport as is and that whoever came in would at least need to come in with a lot of money to fix the place up, start a flight school and have a maintenance shop.
The current assistant FBO, Billy Hallman said that the airport needs a better vehicle or fleet of them to transport visitors or to loan to pilots who stay in local hotels. He said an average of 20 people a week; at most 50 fly into Winslow for the sole purpose of going to La Posada.
When the 90-day RFQ time is up, Clear Creek will be able to reapply. Ferguson said it is not unusual for an airport to have more that one FBO or to have a special service FBO and that different FBOs could be given specific and separate functions.
Out at the airport a few days ago, a group of elderly men from northern Idaho who were en route, fueling up their airplanes on their 27th year of cross-country flights, spoke well of the Winslow Lindbergh Airport.
"They've got a beautiful hangar here and the Mexican food is wonderful," said Broc Hill.
Hill and his three friends were then on their way to the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, N.M.
"One of the things we like to do on these trips is fly to the different air museums around the country," Hill said.