After slapped with 45 Federal Aviation Administration violations in 2021 and under the agency’s watch the past year, the Laramie Regional Airport director said she’s been assured the airport is nearly in full compliance.
“Essentially we’ve been playing catch up and we find ourselves in compliance on all items,” Amy Terrell told Albany County commissioners this week.
Terrell said going into 2022, the airport still had about 15 significant FAA write-ups, which are nearly all taken care of.
Albany County Commission Chairman Pete Gosar said he’s surprised the FAA let the airport run as long as it did with so many violations and that there are costs to “leaving things undone.”
“One (violation) is a lot,” Gosar said. “Forty-five is unbelievable.”
Gosar told Cowboy State Daily there’s not an operationally safe or effective airport on the planet that can run effectively with that many violations.
Terrell said most of the violations were brought into compliance last year, aside from the airport’s certified manual. Terrell said she spent six hours working with the FAA on the document last week, and it’s being submitted to the FAA this week for approval.
“That’s kind of like the bible of the airport,” Terrell said.
The airport will be inspected again in July.
Gosar believes the Laramie airport is now headed in the right direction and making “strides.”
Plagued With Problems
In April 2022, the airport had its commercial flights shut down for a week following the failure of a crucial piece of weather reporting equipment known as the automated surface observation system.
According to the Laramie Boomerang, past board members were asked to resign because of a host of FAA compliance issues in what current board member Robert Southard described as a “fiscal and regulatory emergency.”
Terrell took over in June 2021, along with the new board, completely consisting of city and county employees.
Gary Cyr, a retired airport manager, provided consulting for Laramie Regional in spring 2021 before Terrell took over. He told Cowboy State Daily the airport was in bad shape, with many paperwork and runway-related violations.
During a January 2022 airport board meeting, pilots said they were concerned that airport staff haven’t been sufficiently trained and could potentially cause expensive and dangerous damage to planes by using the wrong procedures, according to the Boomerang.
Pilots also sent a letter to the board that spring, outlining their concerns about the operations and alleged mismanagement of the facility.
Getting It Together
Terrell told commissioners Tuesday that training has significantly improved at the airport and fuel trucks have been brought up to FAA requirements.
She said the airport has implemented daily, monthly and quarterly quality assurance procedures and noted a variety of other successful compliance checks that occurred at the airport this year.
“Many of the accomplishments by this team have been corrections to outstanding issues for years,” Terrell wrote in a letter to commissioners.
Laramie Regional is projecting nearly $4 million in non-grant revenue in the upcoming fiscal year and $1.09 million in personnel costs.
Still ‘Appalling,’ Pilot Says
Pilot Chris MacGlover told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday afternoon he still finds conditions at the airport “absolutely appalling.”
MacGlover said the airport’s management is not transparent or fiscally wise with its finances.
He said he made public record requests to see multiple budgets but was only given selective information.
The airport doesn't have information about its past budgets or income on its website and only provides a boilerplate sheet for its proposed 2023/24 budget.
In 2022, the airport requested $150,000 each from the city of Laramie and Albany County to stay afloat.
The airport is requesting an additional $50,000 from Albany County to pay for heaters in its aircraft rescue and firefighting building and de-icing fluid for runways.
Laramie Regional is one of only two commercial airports in Wyoming that do not de-ice its runways, although the airport provided that service for private aircraft last winter.
“It’s very exciting we’re moving in that direction,” Terrell said.
Terrell said the airport will now have this capability, helped by a local donor who pledged to pay these costs at times during the fall University of Wyoming football season. She said it will cost the airport $10,000 per de-icing event to open up the runways.
Terrell said she is unaware of any future compliance issues, but also admitted there is a bit of uncertainty as some compliance issues are still being resolved.
“Kind of the way the airport has worked is we think we’re in full compliance until we find out we’re not,” Terrell said.
Commissioner Terri Jones criticized some of the airport’s financial decisions Tuesday.
Jones said she “is appalled” that the airport’s lawyer, Jodi Shea, receives $8,000 a month for the work that she does for the airport and also criticized a recent hangar purchase the airport made.
“I’m looking at this as just not good use of money from the airport, and I’m not happy,” Jones said.
MacGlover and Jones said the airport bought the hangar for about $60,000 more than it needed to for the purpose of renting it out in the future. MacGlover used the example of a newer and larger steel building he just bought for the same $105,000 cost the airport bought a 30-year-old 38-by-40-foot hangar.
MacGlover said he finds it irresponsible that the airport asks for help paying for equipment from the county when it recently spent more money buying a hangar that it plans to rent.
Aviation educator and former airport board member Ian Adams told Cowboy State Daily that safety has improved at the airport, but he agrees with MacGlover that problems remain with “oversight, authority and competence.”
Gosar said the airport is headed in a positive direction, with much more compliance than in the past.
“For some people it takes some adjusting to new management,” he said. “Some people don’t have a real good comparison for how other airports are run.”
In 2022, the airport worked with financial consultants to complete audits for 2019-2021, a time period when no audits were performed by prior management.
MacGlover said the new management uses the bookkeeping flaws of the past administration as a “scapegoat” for any shortcomings that still exist at the airport.
He said his plane was damaged when airport employees moved it out of the hangar without notifying him and failed to tie it down to protect it from wind. It blew into another plane, causing what he estimates to be between $15,000 and $20,000 worth of damage.
Lacking legal representation, MacGlover said he was eventually pressured into signing a settlement agreement with the airport based on false information that was presented to him, and as result lost thousands of dollars.
After routinely reporting issues about the airport to the Laramie City Council, MacGlover said Southard, also the Laramie city attorney, instructed the council members to stop talking to him.
“That’s bullshit,” MacGlover said. “If I have a problem with the way they're handling their job I have the right to speak about it,” he said. “There’s absolutely no oversight to the (airport’s) joint powers board.”
MacGlover also said the airport has made it difficult for private aviators to access the airport by increasing security and have called the police on him and others trying to access their planes.
“It’s really driving away business,” he said.
MacGlover said he is considering getting out of aviation because he’s so frustrated with the Laramie Regional Airport.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.