Our airport seems to be in the crosshairs once again.
Just a few months after a full-blown battle over rental rates, various pilots and members of the Coeur d’Alene Airport Association are angry over the apparent treatment of a long-term business.
Southfield Aviation has been a popular and successful FBO (Fixed Base Operator) for roughly two decades, providing fuel — and hospitality, when required — at Coeur d’Alene Airport.
Now rumors are circulating that Southfield’s owners, Larry and Liz Booher, are being bullied by Steven Kjergaard, the airport manager, and his ally on the county commission, Marc Eberlein.
There is no smoking gun here, at least not yet, but Frank O’Connell insists all the signs are in place.
O’Connell has been flying out of what is now called Pappy Boyington Field for years, and to say he’s suspicious of Kjergaard would be an understatement.
“Larry and Liz (Booher) are at the point that they’d like to sell and retire,” O’Connell said. “But they’ve been told that they can’t sell the business without a competitive bidding process.
“Who’s ever heard of a deal like that?”
O’Connell and others who have leased hangar space at the airport believe that the county ultimately would like to take over all the FBOs on the premises, including Southfield.
“That’s the way it looks,” O’Connell said. “I think the whole idea is actually social engineering. They want to change the culture of the airport — from what it’s always been to a place catering exclusively to rich tourists and movie stars.”
The Airport Association, meanwhile, is fresh off a strange, self-inflicted defeat in a scrap over raising rental rates.
Apparently without consulting his colleagues, Murdo Cameron — the organization’s vice president — signed off on an airport-wide rental rate increase.
“Nobody knew that Murdo would do that all alone,” said Richard LeFrancis, who leases a small hangar and saw his rental rate doubled at a single stroke.
“Murdo was supposed to be representing us, and he agreed to raising lease rates without any discussion.
“It’s hard to tell what’s going on at the airport, to be honest. There aren’t a lot of straight answers.”
FRANKLY, finding any continuity and teamwork at the airport might always be elusive.
The fact that the facility operates under guidelines set by three county commissioners — elected officials who come and go — makes it difficult to see any permanent pattern.
There is a long-term plan on record, the county’s view of the airport’s future, but how in the world can all these changing characters follow a script?
Ironically, Coeur d’Alene Airport is one of the county’s most successful operations — luring approximately $140 million in economic activity to the area each year.
More than that, it almost breaks even, which is close to miraculous for any general aviation airport (a facility with no scheduled passenger traffic).
“Believe it or not, the place would be in the black if they counted the property tax — maybe $270,000 — being paid by all the renters,” O’Connell said.
Despite all that, we might always have to endure a ruckus at the airport, what with commissioners changing almost before their seats get warm.
The former airport manager, Greg Delavan, went from hero status to the doghouse more than once, and actually was fired, re-hired and fired again.
That’s just plain comedy.
Seeking a smooth operation that makes sense — and satisfies all parties at the airport — feels like an unreachable dream.
Unfortunate, but …
Keep your seat belts fastened.
Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.