I Finally Got Smart

I give up my contract at Wickenburg Airport and feel an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders.

It was driving me nuts.

I’d won the fuel manager contract in late 2002 and started with the lofty goal of turning the airport around, making it a place where pilots would want to hang out, drink coffee, and do some hangar flying. Like a clubhouse. And while they were there, they’d pull out their planes, go for a flight, and buy some fuel so the town and I could make some money.

If you compare the airport now with what it was under the previous fuel manager, you’d have to admit that I succeeded. But at what cost?

The original idea was to find a full-time guy (or gal) to manage the place for me. I’d handle the money, the manager would handle everything else. But reality set in quickly. First, I couldn’t find such a person. And then I realized that even if I did, I couldn’t afford to pay one.

So I became that person. And the nightmare began.

The job was fraught with frustration:

Frustration at dealing with the town and its slow (almost backward) speed of getting things done. I’ve been told that all small towns are like this and that I should be patient. Believe it or not, I can be VERY patient. But no one who has an interest in seeing things done can be THAT patient.

Frustration at attending airport commission meetings, which discussed the same semi-relevant topics every month. My favorite was the hangars at Forepaugh issue, which was begun by a local ultralight pilot because he supposedly couldn’t get a hangar in Wickenburg without insurance. (Untralight pilots can’t easily get insurance.) As soon as he got a hangar in Wickenburg, he stopped coming to meetings. (Has anyone checked for insurance? I doubt it.) But the topic was discussed for at least two more months, with nothing being resolved. And let’s not even talk about Forepaugh. How so many people can waste so much breath over a dirt strip in the middle of the desert absolutely amazes me.

Frustration at dealing with customers who got their kicks by complaining to ME about things I have absolutely no control over. “When is that self-serve fuel system going to be fixed, anyway?” “Why are fuel prices so high?” “Why are hangars so expensive?” “Why can’t I build my own hangar?” “How could you let so-and-so cut me off in the traffic pattern?” “Why didn’t you tell me that the windsock on the east end of the field shows different wind that the one at the west end of the field?” It never ended.

Frustration at dealing with people who weren’t customers — people who were proud of the fact that they didn’t buy a thing from me — coming in and drinking my coffee and sitting on my sofa a few times a week. Getting donut crumbs on the floor and missing the urinal when they took a leak. And talking other customers out of buying things that kept me in business.

Frustration at seeing the annual “Fly In,” which is sponsored by an organization that knows less about aviation than the Girl Scouts, turn into a poorly publicized car show with no control over aircraft or people on the ramp. Last year, when I needed to fly out during the event, I had to enlist the help of FOUR people to prevent bystanders from walking too close to my helicopter while it was preparing to depart. There were no movement/non-movement areas defined!!! No safety personnel to prevent spectators from walking into spinning props!!! Parked cars blocking the doors to many of the hangars!!! And the C-130 they finally got to appear at the event taxied down a taxiway it didn’t fit on and climbed one of its wings up on a hangar. When it put its engines in reverse, it churned up enough grass, weeds, and pebbles to shower the spectators and cover the ramp for weeks. Jeez! As fuel manager for the place, I could be held liable for damages in the event of an accident! And I could only imagine the lawsuit the town would get slapped with.

Frustration at being told that I wasn’t supposed to voice my opinions if they weren’t favorable. What kind of bullshit is THAT? Hello? Aren’t we in America? Isn’t there a document called the Constitution that grants all of us the right to voice our opinions until we’re blue in the face? Or longer?

Frustration at being an employer. What was I thinking?

If I told you what the FBO netted last year, you’d laugh at me. If I told you how much of my personal money I put into the airport building to fix minor problems that the town consistently avoided fixing and making improvements to make the terminal more appealing, you’d tell me I was nuts.

I was nuts. I know that now. I suspected it at least six months ago when I snapped at a customer, after dealing with his complaints and sexual harassment for ten months. I called him something I reserve for people who really annoy the hell out of me. (Something so foul I won’t even repeat it here. But ask me in person and I’ll tell you.) I called him that loudly and repeatedly. He tried to get me removed by the town. If only he knew what a favor he would have been doing me! Six months less of insanity.

I made my decision to quit on Thursday morning. I kept it to myself that morning. The mayor-elect was coming by to visit me at the airport with three members of the airport commission. I decided that if I thought there was ANY chance of a change, I’d reverse my decision again. But when the mayor-elect came by, I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I guess you could say I was DEpressed.

Later, I stopped by town hall to drop off some paperwork. I got called into the Airport Manager’s office. He immediately started giving me grief about a list of airport fixes that were outstanding that I had submitted to him. I broke the news to him so he could save his breath. I dropped the official letter off the next day.

Fortunately, there’s a way that I can make my exit without hurting the airport or the town. The folks at Master Aircraft (the airport paint shop) are interested in taking over. So interested, in fact, that they’re willing to buy my airport assets (just about everything in the building) and take over as my agent until my 90 termination period is up. They’ll keep the place just as nice and friendly as I did. And after watching me for 6 months, they already know what they’re in for, so they’re more likely to stick it out.

Now back to my regularly scheduled life.

What do you think?