By: Meredith Holford
The Mansfield Airport on Fruit Street will stay a small community airport, say airport commissioners, but they are working to make continual improvements to runways and buildings. That effort is being made to stay abreast of federal requirements and the demands of the airport’s many resident pilots and visitors.
In a conversation with selectmen on Wednesday, three people vying for two available seats on the commission responded to a comment by board chairman Jess Aptowitz that expansion of airport services might be good for the town. Present chairman of the commission Lou Andrews, member Howard Fisk, and new contender Rod Stearns fielded the questions.
“If we could land a corporate jet there, it would help us in attracting business,” Aptowitz said.
Stearns, a pilot and past commission member in the 1980’s, told selectmen larger planes with greater landing and fuel requirements should not be in the future of the airport right now.
“You don’t want to do that – it would scare the townspeople,” Stearns said. “There are small corporate jets that can come in there now.”
“We’re struggling to make money as it is,” airport commissioner Howard Fisk told the board. “The size and the water all around it limits what we can do. It’s family oriented as it stands now – get us 3,000 more (runway) feet, and we’ll be happy to take care of it.”
Selectmen were also interested in changes in focus that might come with the airport’s new manager Bob Welch. Former manager Dave Dineen left in November.
Commission members said clearing vegetation around runway approaches is a top concern. Fisk noted the new manager has suggested the commission try to clear a walking trail around the entire fenced perimeter of the field. “We will see parts of that addressed in the not-too-distant future,” Fisk said.
Another priority is replacement of old hangars.
“The old ones look like crap,” noted Andrews, “but they are structurally sound.”
Fisk added the manager has already contracted a painter to come in and re-coat the green hangar, and Andrews said dead trees and brush have been cleared in the front of the property.
“We’re trying to make it more presentable,” Andrews said.
Stearns said he thought increasing runway access, although an important task for the future growth of the facility, would not bring in high-end planes.
“It would have limited appeal for the industrial park,” Stearns said. “We have 3,500 feet of runway, and most corporate jets need 5,000 — even Norwood (airport) only has 4,000.
“The main asset for the airport is recreational and educational – to teach people how to fly,” he added. “We’re not going to compete with charter or commercial airlines – here’s what we are, a small community airport.”
Andrews said future challenges include working with abutters to the airport property, and the renewal of the lease in 2012.
To a question from Olivier Kozlowski about the popularity of hot air balloons, Fisk replied the economic climate has put a damper on the once numerous ballooners. “There are a few flying,” Fisk said, “but it costs $30,000 a year for insurance, and there is a $120,000 replacement cost.”
Selectmen could not decide which of the three men to put in the two available seats, an unusual problem in an era where community involvement in town affairs is at a premium, and initially voted 3-2 for Stearns. But Kevin Moran pointed out Fisk had been on the commission for many years, and added, “We go way back to pulling 7-irons at Willowdale.” They voted again, all voting for Fisk, but they had already voted Andrews back in, so that left them voting for all three.
Finally, Stearns himself ended the quandary, saying he would withdraw his name from the running. “I’m here to give you a choice,” he said. “If one member said they were willing to take a break, I would be a good steward – the last thing I want to cause is disruption.”
“If someone chooses to go away, please come to me,” Stearns said. “I probably will be back here at this time next year.”