Airport Advisory Commission selects Goulds as chairman

The Archuleta County Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) met in regular session last week and, by meeting’s end, faced two commission vacancies and two open officer positions. Regardless, the panel reported progress in efforts to examine the feasibility of “through-the-fence” operations at Stevens Field.

Though four commissioner terms officially expire March 31, two sitting members will likely be reappointed, while two others will soon be replaced.

With a quorum present Thursday afternoon, the commission voted to recommend Jim Carey and Lloyd Goheen — who were appointed to the AAC last year to complete terms prematurely vacated by Gerard Pearson and Pat Artis — for additional three-year terms. The commission anticipates final Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) approval April 6.

Sitting AAC vice chair Mike Neder and commissioner Mark Weiler, however, have chosen not to stand for reappointment and will officially step down at the end of the month. According to current commission chair Michael Arbuthnot, the AAC will submit newcomers Jack Lilly and James “Buz” Gillentine for BoCC approval, also on April 6.

Lilly is a retired San Diego police officer, county resident and longtime pilot. As a member of the local flying club, he owns a helicopter reminiscent of the long-running Mash television series and serves on the Stevens Field Fly-in committee. During the winter months, Lilly also clears snow from roads in a subdivision bordering airport property.

Gillentine is a local mortgage broker, member and past president of the Pagosa Springs Rotary Club, and former board member of the Pagosa Area Chamber of Commerce. A 12-year resident of Archuleta County, he has advised the AAC in real estate matters, including through-the-fence operations, for the past six months.

As the aforementioned commissioner terms expire March 31, so do elected officer positions. Because Arbuthnot has chosen not to continue as AAC chair, the commission named Ralph Goulds its new chief on Thursday.

However, with vice chair Neder declining another term, his seat will soon be up for grabs. Apparently, so will that of secretary Kate Alfred’s, who has indicated a preference to reducing her capacity to simple commissioner for the upcoming year.

Therefore, to allow time for Lilly and Gillentine to be appointed to the commission, and because Alfred was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting, the commission moved to postpone selection of a new vice chair and secretary until its April meeting. Besides, Arbuthnot suggested, it will allow Alfred time to reconsider, in the event no one else steps forward.

Even as the AAC works to reconfigure, it has reported some progress in its consideration of so-called through-the-fence (TTF) operations at the airport.

As defined by the Federal Aviation Administration, “Through the fence operations are those activities permitted by an airport sponsor through an agreement that permits access to the public landing area by independent entities or operators offering an aeronautical activity or to owners of aircraft based on land adjacent to, but not a part of, the airport property.”

More simply, according to the Stevens Field “Airport Minimum Standards,” a through-the-fence operation is, “an aeronautical activity operating from other than Stevens Field airport property, and accessing airport property, through the airport’s fence.”

At present, the standards simply state, “Through the fence operations are not currently approved for Stevens Field at Archuleta County.”

Nevertheless, some AAC members apparently believe certain TTF operations at Stevens Field may enhance the local economic environment by encouraging commercial development near the airport.

To that end, Arbuthnot and airport manager Bill McKown are now busy comprising a list of all U.S. airports that allow such relationships, and will apportion it among members for more detailed analysis. The primary focus will obviously be on what pros and cons such programs offer.

When asked what prompted speculation into TTF operations at this time, various commission members suggested an adjacent property owner has expressed interest in developing his land for use by some form of aeronautical activity, but doing so would require a TTF agreement.

Collectively, commission members have not said how long it might take to determine whether TTF operations make sense at Stevens Field, but there are evidently some concerns regarding security, safety and further Federal Aviation Administration funding for future airport improvements.

And, as a general principal, the FAA does not typically support agreements granting access to airport public landing areas by aircraft stored and serviced on adjacent property.