Is it time for the New Castle Board of Aviation Commissioners to take off in a new direction as far as its consultant is concerned?
At the end of a special BoAC meeting Monday, the potential end of a long-standing relationship with Woolpert, an Indianapolis firm, was part of a discussion raised by Chris Snyder, the company’s aviation design vice president.
“I think you guys should go through that process, I really do,” Snyder said. “It’s not that we don’t like you. It’s just that I’d like to evaluate how your criteria looks and then respond to a RFP (request for proposal). But I also think it’s good for you guys to consider a fresh start, too. You’ve got a big program. You’re going in a new direction. And that’s part of what you want to look for in a consultant, someone who can help you carry that vision in a new direction for the next five years.”
With Woolpert as their consultant, BoAC officials have helped steer the New Castle-Henry County Municipal Airport toward a new runway that was opened last September. In the past year, however, board members have been aggressively trying to get contractors to either repair or redo grading, seeding and drainage surrounding that multi-million, mostly federal-dollar funded runway.
And part of the responsibility for oversight failure landed in Woolpert’s collective hands. But at Monday’s special meeting, BoAC members praised Woolpert’s efforts at doubling-down to help solve the drainage problems and expressed satisfaction about how they were being addressed as well as the company’s willingness to pay part of the costs involved with fixing matters.
John Marlatt, the airport manager whose dad, Bill, started the facility more than 50 years ago in a grassy field, said the relationship with Woolpert goes back more than 40 years when previous owners and consolidations are included.
Snyder emphasized he wasn’t trying to cut the cord. But he does believe the process would be healthy for an airport on the grow. He encouraged BoAC Board President Corey Murphy to talk with Indiana Department of Transportation officials along with personnel with the Federal Aviation Administration about the subject during a Nov. 20 meeting when a capital improvement plan is discussed.
“When you do a consultant selection, you do it for a specific set of projects or project,” Snyder said. “The FAA still calls for you to identify projects you want to do with that consultant. Ultimately, the board negotiates with the firm on its qualifications for those specific projects. You should identify your consultant based on a list of projects over a five-year period.”
Next on the list for Marlatt Field is an increase in parking area to accommodate more aircraft that comes with building a new runway – and would come with an another hoped-for extension down the road. The new runway is 4,200 feet. If it was increased to 5,000 feet, bigger corporate jets could land here, which could be good for economic development efforts.
BoAC member Tom Green said getting federal funding for the extension may depend on three things:
• What future funding is available;
• How much business increases at the airport; and
• “How much we do to help justify it,” Green said.Green and other board members believe the level of scrutiny they displayed on getting the drainage issues alongside the new runway corrected will help their cause.
“I think the fact that we held all the parties accountable for this project will put us in good stead with the FAA,” Green said.
Meanwhile, the airport is clearly a busier place, particularly with LifeLine Helicopter activity. Green said there was one day last week when the New Castle base had four flights on a particular day shift, the maximum allowed for safety of the employees. “In fact, they had to turn down a flight,” Green said, indicating that call went to one of LifeLine’s four other bases.