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As Nashua Airport updates rules, concerns have been raised

Union Leader Correspondent

August 25. 2014 8:11PM
Nashua Airport's air traffic control tower is shown on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

NASHUA — After proposed rule changes sparked an outcry, Nashua Airport officials say they are working with airport users to come up with revised rules.

“Nobody is going to make changes to bulldoze over anybody,” said Dennis Stephens, interim chairman of the Nashua Airport Authority, who described the current airport regulations as “barbaric and clumsy.”

About a dozen people have filed written complaints to the Nashua Airport Authority over the past several months, voicing concerns about the future of the facility, budget woes and an alleged overreaching of power.

“We want this airport to thrive, but some of these changes — it scares us,” said Ned Crowley. “We already do a wonderful job of looking out for ourselves and policing ourselves.”

One of the biggest concerns from airport users was a suggested Federal Aviation Administration policy that prohibits non-aeronautical items to be housed inside of hangars, essentially ensuring that they do not become storage units for vehicles other than aircraft, or used for social gatherings.

Airport Manager Stephen Bourque drafted a set of new operational procedures and guidelines for airport tenants and users earlier this year.

A memo about the guidelines was temporarily posted on the airport website, stating: “We will aggressively pursue individuals who choose to disregard the rules, and there will be consequences to them. Individuals who do not follow the airport rules and regulations can face severe punishments, up to and including the denial of vehicular airfield access.”

Bourque has said airport regulations have not been updated in 14 years; he admits there were concerns about the proposed changes. They were never enacted.

In a letter to the airport authority, Rob Holland, a pilot and hangar tenant, said the rules would have created a negative culture,.

“This document is a clear start toward destroying the business-friendly culture and positive aviation atmosphere that is necessary for long-term sustainment of the Nashua airport,” wrote Holland. “I was, quite frankly, shocked and dismayed by the document’s blatant allocation of power to the airport manager and/or the NAA that explicitly excludes the community’s input.”

Weston Liu claims that Bourque is not certified or trained to enforce some of the items within the 30-page document.

“It is an extreme overreach of power and control,” agreed Vern Maine, adding the airport has more pressing issues to address.

Stephens described Bourque is extremely talented and knowledgeable about airport operations.

“I can’t think of a more competent, capable person to select for the job,” said Stephens, adding opposing views are important and will be incorporated into the new guidelines moving forward.

Todd Whitney, another airport user, said the level of safety on and around the airfield is already appropriate, and that given the national economy, tenants and businesses on the field deserve the maximum in flexibility and convenience in their usage of the facility unless any practice is “demonstrably unsafe.”

“We want an airport that is a thriving, vibrant and commercially successful airfield with activities that are not only directly aviation-related, but indirectly related as well,” Whitney wrote in a letter to the authority.

Although airport officials were expecting a $33,000 deficit from the fiscal year 2014 budget, Stephens said the airport actually came out ahead by $11,000.

Still, he acknowledges that for the new budget cycle, an estimated $45,000 loss is anticipated from the $500,000 operating budget.

“We like to project the worst-case scenario,” he added.

Stephens acknowledges there has been a lot of change at the airport — a new manager took over about a year ago, and Airport Authority Chairman Donald Davidson unexpectedly stepped down from his position earlier this month.

“Ninety-five percent of the proposed operating guidelines are already in existence today,” said Stephens, who is hoping to eventually draft two separate documents with assistance from airport users. One document would address operational procedures; the second document would help promote businesses and development at the airport, he said.

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