Concern voiced over airport fuel supply

Concern voiced over airport fuel supply
by By DAVID DAVIS Managing Editor Cleveland Daily Banner
04.03.11 – 03:04 am

Some local airplane pilots and owners have expressed concern over the apparent lack of fuel at Hardwick Field and have inquired if fuel supply will be a problem at the Cleveland Municipal Airport scheduled to open in 2013.

Fixed-base operator Taylor Newman said Friday there have been three occasions in the past 18 months that fuel has been unavailable at Hardwick Field.

Not all aviators are concerned. Some said Cleveland is lucky to have Newman running the outdated facility on North Lee Highway.

Among those who expressed confidence in the Newman is pilot and Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority member LeRoy Rymer.

He said Newman operates the airports in Dalton and Sewanee, flight school and charter business. He has been fixed-based operator at Hardwick Field since May 1, 2007.

“I’ve known Taylor a longtime and I trust him,” Rymer said. “He knows what he’s doing.”

It was Rymer who wanted Newman as fixed-based operator at Hardwick and would like to see him bid on the contract at the new airport.

He said he did not know about the complaints, but anyone with concerns should approach the airport authority.

“Anyone with a specific complaint ought to address the airport authority and vent their frustrations,” Rymer said.

Newman said there was a problem in 2010 with the fuel distributor that caused the airport to run out of fuel.

“The distributor had a supply issue that led to a wait of a little longer than a week to service any airport in our region. The other times have been issues that we have dealt with internally and I think we have fixed all of the issues that have caused us to be without fuel at the airport.”

The latest event was on or about March 10 when a large amount of fuel was sold. The airport ran out of fuel the next day and remained without fuel until another delivery arrived on Wednesday (March 16).

That is what Rymer said he thought probably happened.

“Someone probably bought a large amount of fuel,” he said. “If it happened more than two or three times, I would complain. It could have been an accounting problem.”

Newman said the airport has sold about 1,500 gallons of aviation gasoline per month for the past few months and doesn’t keep a large inventory in the tank.

“I have been personally hesitant to order a lot of fuel as our retail price has risen above $5 per gallon and historically when that happens the weekend leisure pilots don’t fly, which is the majority of the sales that we have at the airport,” he said. “The majority of the transient business traffic that has been utilizing the airport would have purchased jet fuel, which is not available at HDI but will be at the new airport.”

Rymer said he expects Newman is trying to balance cash flow with fuel inventory.

“He’s doing this because he likes to be in aviation,” Rymer said. “I doubt that he’s making much money at all. The airport lost a lot of business years ago and it takes a longtime to get that business back, but it is slowly picking up.”

The complaints identify the lack of fuel as a safety issue and fear Newman was minimizing the danger.

“Every time we have been out of fuel we have issued a Notice to Airmen with the FAA that every pilot should check before operating their aircraft,” he said. “This NOTAM has indicated that 100 low lead fuel is unavailable at Cleveland Hardwick airport. Every pilot should check NOTAMs before every flight.”

He said the information is disseminated to pilots with weather briefings. The same system is used to inform pilots of temporary flight restrictions, runway closures, air field lighting and other issues.

“There should not be anyone surprised the fuel is unavailable,” he said.

The surprise occurred not when a plane arrived, but when a plane had to takeoff with barely enough fuel to reach McMinn County Airport where it refueled and continued to its destination.

Newman said the only real profit mechanism at Hardwick is through fuel sales. There are some base revenues generated through hangar rental, “but, if we don’t have fuel to sell we don’t have the ability to make money. I understand your concern and I don’t believe that with our current way to monitor our fuel inventory we should be out again, barring a supply issue from the distributor.”
Copyright 2011 Cleveland Daily Banner. All rights reserved.

© clevelandbanner.com 2011

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