Pilots ask Alva Airport Commission for better communication

• Ask for answers about fuel trucks

 

February 16, 2024

Marione Martin

John Wiebener speaks to the Alva Airport Commission about frustration felt by local pilots about delays in getting the avgas fuel truck finished and back in service.

Some local pilots are upset at the lack of progress in getting a reliable avgas fuel truck at the Alva Regional Airport. John Wiebener asked to be listed on the agenda of the Alva Airport Commission meeting Monday night to address these concerns.

"My purpose here is not to be accusatory or vindictive. I'm just a frustrated local pilot as are a majority of our other guys here," he said. A few other pilots with aircraft based at the Alva airport also attended the meeting.

"How did we go down this path?" asked Wiebener. "Oct. 5 was the last time I got fuel from the truck. And then I think shortly, the week after, it was shipped off. We're coming up close to four months now without a solution." Wiebener cited a lack of communication from the airport board and the airport manager.

The airport commission agreed to purchase two new Isuzu trucks and have the fuel tanks, one for avgas (100 low lead) and the other for Jet-A fuel, removed from the old trucks and placed on the new ones. The new trucks and the two old trucks were taken to a company in Kansas that agreed to handle moving the fuel tanks. They started on the avgas truck first because that one was in the worst shape.

After a time waiting for parts, it became apparent this would take longer than expected. The original Jet-A truck was retrieved from Kansas and returned to the airport.

The local pilots who don't need that truck for their private aircraft were upset at the choice. "We local guys feel like – whoa! The Jet-A money speaks, but us little local guys don't," said Wiebener. Jets usually have larger tanks to fill, and Jet-A gas costs more.

"You know our flying is about convenience and about speed. It's about camaraderie. We have a very robust Sunday morning coffee over here at the airport," said Wiebener. "But when you don't have convenience or speed, it kind of takes two of the parts of it out. I know for me, it takes me an extra 30 to 45 minutes to stop, get fuel, go get my tug, come back over here, get my airplane, tug it back to the hangar to put it in. My other option is to start the airplane which decreases the life of your engine. All of us pilots and engine people know that."

He said the airport is losing some fuel sales to local pilots "because we're buying fuel off station because it's more convenient. So we need to bring that convenience back."

He also asked if the airport considered alternatives like a temporary fuel trailer or an existing fuel truck being sold by another airport. Wiebener also expressed concern that the purchase of two identical trucks turned into the purchase of two different models. "Now we have a big tandem axle freightliner out there that (1) doesn't look like it's going to fit the Jet A tank correctly or (2) once you put the tank on there, it doesn't look like it's going to fit under the overhang," he said.

"We're just frustrated. We don't see the end in sight. I think some of it is lack of communication from the board or from the airport manager," he concluded.

Commission Members Reply

Airport Commission Chair Dale Logsdon said, "We all know this didn't go as planned with changing the fuel trucks. There were some delays on compatibility and extra parts to make things work. Derrick has kept us board members pretty well up to date on what's going on and the process that's happening. I'm sure that if you're asking directly, he can explain those things to you. I don't know if you've asked him, but he's volunteering that information to us board members without us asking what's going on and why this is happening and that is not happening.

"We all know it didn't go as planned. The Jet A truck was operational, and we got it back. The avgas truck is not running so we're still waiting on components to marry the tank with the truck we got. I hope that when we get this all done, that we will have some updated equipment that we can use for a long time. I don't think it was a deal where we wanted to spend a lot of money at one time. It was just an opportunity that arose."

Logsdon said before the airport had fuel trucks, pilots would leave their planes at the fuel pump so the manager and staff could fill them up and then tow them to the hangar. "I'm sure Derrick would be happy to tow your airplane to and from the pumps," he said.

Board member Paul Kinzie commented, "In this process, there have been decisions that surprised me. I don't feel my position on the board is to micromanage the airport manager. And all of us have learned from our experience and our decisions, and correcting those decisions and going forward."

He added, "It seemed at the time, of course hindsight's 20-20, it seemed at the time that the most prudent measure and the most cost effective was the two new Isuzu trucks based on the numbers I was seeing coming out and the availability of something. There's no need of jumping out of a mess you know into a mess you don't know, particularly on used equipment, particularly if you haven't maintained. The economics seemed appropriate for what we were going to do, and the questions were asked of the companies involved as to time frames, personnel, manpower, and all of that and received the answers on that were satisfactory to make the decisions that we made. But then after we got into it, it was almost like a wolf in sheep's lining."

Kinzie continued, "You know when you look at you don't have a PTO, you don't have a driveshaft or something's not fitting quite right. Is it Isuzu and how they represented it? Is it the company that was going to do the conversion for you not fully looking at the situation and apprising you of all the details and things involved ... not making sure that they have all the parts available that they need to make that conversion or the personnel available and the expertise available to do it? Sometimes you rely on people on their word on that kind of stuff or what they print, and it doesn't always pan out to be exactly what they said. Sometimes corrections were made as we traveled down the path to try to do it.

"In my briefings, the delay has come that we've got a part that's needed that's apparently not anywhere on any Isuzu shelf anywhere in the U.S. because I've asked that question several times. It's sitting on some ship out in the Pacific Ocean we're waiting to get here. And hopefully that will correct that problem."

More Comments

Pilot Eric Brewer asked about a company he knows that has made parts when they couldn't find them. Alva Business Manager Stephen Ford explained that using non-Isuzu parts would void the warranty on the trucks.

Airport Manager Derrick Courson explained the Jet-A fuel truck was retrieved because the hose at the fuel pump wasn't long enough to fuel some jets. Also some jets weren't compatible with the tow bar. He said they didn't have the option to bring back the avgas truck because it wasn't running. The avegas truck had several starters replaced, he said. It backfired and sparked. He said it was scary driving a truck in that condition with a tank of fuel on it.

Courson added that he's hearing they might have the needed parts for the tank to truck conversion by the end of March.

Bob Baker offered the use of his military grade 500 gallon fuel trailer and some new filters. However, Logsdon said the Corporation Commission would have to inspect and approve it. Board member Terry Cline said there were liability issues as well.

Kinzie also explained the commission looked into used fuel trucks, but found they were twice the cost of the two Isuzu trucks.

Cline told the pilots present that they were welcome to call him any time for an update on the fuel trucks. Following the meeting, he spoke to the pilots and gave out his cellphone number.

To view the entire meeting, go to AlvaReviewCourier.com and click on the Videos tab.

 

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