New director: Airport headed in the right direction

August 19, 2018

The Western Nebraska Regional Airport continues to make progress toward bigger and better things. Although Darwin Skelton is in his final weeks as airport director, Raul Aguallo has seamlessly moved into the role, taking over many of the day to day operations. Other changes in staff include the promotion of Cheryl Clause to assistant airport director, Lindsey Ferguson to office manager and Kurt Schuessler to operations lead. Schuessler previously held the position of operations specialist II.

“I officially started Aug. 1, but as soon as the decision was made, I went to work,” Aguallo said. “I’ve been doing it for 30 days already.”

The airport director’s office has also been renamed as Administrative Offices because it is occupied by two administrators — Aguallo and Clause. The change also reflects the knowledge of the two as Clause is more familiar with the inside work of the airport while Aguallo is familiar with the outside.

“I changed the office from airport (offices) to executive offices because it’s not just my office,” Aguallo said. “I will slowly pick up the inside part and she will get familiar with the outside so we can cover and help each other in the future.”

Aguallo and Clause will be traveling to an annual convention in Kansas City, Aug. 28-30. Aguallo has attended for several years. He said it was important for Clause to be there to meet the people she has spoken often with on the phone.

“Everything that is important to the airport here is there,” Aguallo said.

As Skelton leaves, Aguallo and Clause have taken over the duties of ensuring the airport continues to work smoothly. The budget for next year is being finalized after the county assessor released the assessed value of the airport at $2,989,246,341, which was lower than originally thought. A reduction in several areas, including other equipment and salaries, will be made before the final budget is brought before the Airport Authority Board in September.

The board is also expected to appoint a new board member to replace Lou Kleager, who retired on Aug. 16, at the next meeting.

In other business, Aguallo informed the airport authority board that the airport has taken possession of tits new fuel tank. The tank was purchased from Cabela’s for $55,000, much less than the $250,000 a new one would cost. Board Chair Don Overman said he went to inspect the tank and it looks brand new.

New fire equipment is expected to be delivered in 2019. Aguallo said earliest estimates are in April, but he intends to travel to Madison, Wisconsin, to inspect the $700,000 truck before they take delivery. The new truck meets all FAA requirements and includes other firefighting gear. The final cost, with engineering fees, is $900,000, of which 90 percent of the bill is paid by the federal government.

Aguallo and Clause have begun the paperwork for authorization to work on runway 523, which will take the existing runway down to the original concrete. The cost is estimated to be $8.9 million plus an additional $1.8 million for sealing and repainting of all taxiways. Runway 1230 is expected to cost about $1.23 million to seal and restripe. The estimated $12 million project will see a paperwork process begin in 2019, with an estimated 2020 or 2021 starting date. If approved, the airport is only responsible for 10 percent of the cost, with the government paying the rest.

“It goes to show you what it takes to keep an airport like ours in operation,” Overman said. “Fortunately, the feds realize that and allow us to get the 90 percent federal funding.”

Aguallo expects the work to be approved since runways are high on the list of safety measures.

Boardings continue to impress. In July, there were 1,444 boardings with SkyWest, bringing the total to 6,221 for 2018. When medical and charter flights are added in, the yearly total through July is 7,364. Another 1,400 boardings are scheduled for August.

“In a six-month period, we’ve done over half of what we need for the year,” Clause said.

SkyWest has been the airport’s carrier since Jan. 30. In order to qualify for federal funding, the airport must have at least 10,000 boardings in a year.

Diversons are increasing at the airport, which brings in more funds for the airport. Several airlines already use the airport and more are inquiring.

Clause read the board an email from a diversionary customer who was pleased with the service.

“Your airport staff is fantastic and friendly,” the email read. “We were accommodated nicely. Thanks for making a long day bearable.”

The airport will host a retirement celebration on Aug. 31, 4-6 p.m., at the Flight Deck Restaurant to thank Darwin Skelton for his years of service.

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