The Wellsville Municipal Airport will be run by the town as of April 1 following the Town Board’s nullification of its contract with Wellsville Flying Service.
The move, approved last week by the Town Board, goes hand-in-hand with the retirement of airport Manager Gary Barnes, owner of Wellsville Flying Service.
“Gary’s going to retire … we’d like to thank Gary for all his years of service and hard work in keeping that airport one of the nicest in the area,” Wellsville Supervisor Donald “Tink” LaForge Jr. said at last week’s meeting.
Barnes said he has been involved with the airport for most of the last 40 years. He noted the Flying Service has managed the airport since 1998.
“I’ll be 75 in June. I probably should have done it (retired) three or four years ago. It hasn’t been a profitable business for several years now,” Barnes said Thursday. He said the town of Wellsville taking over operation of the airport was the best option for the town and the Flying Service.
Barnes said the town will take over fuel sales and rental of hangar space to customers.
“The town is going to purchase some equipment from Wellsville Flying Service. Other than that, they’re taking over the inventory,” Barnes said. “The fuel that’s owned by Wellsville Flying Service will be purchased by the town for resale. Dollar amounts are flexible at this time.”
“Wellsville Flying Service will keep our airplanes here — those that we keep,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got three aircraft — two charter planes are on the market for sale. The small flight-training plane — it’s a Piper Tomahawk — we’ll continue to use for flight training.”
Barnes said being around the airport for so long, he’s met his share of politicians, businessmen and entertainers.
“I’ve enjoyed it. That’s the reason I’ve stuck around,” he said. “A lot of the people who come to Wellsville — high-ranking politicians who fly in, we got to meet them.
“In 2010, I got to fly Carl Paladino, who was the Republican candidate for governor. Flying a politician around, you get a chance to learn what makes the inner part of the state government tick. Of course, I got the conservative side,” he said, laughing. “I did fly Mario Cuomo’s wife and I got to fly Eliot Spitzer when he was running for governor.
“John Glenn had his airplane here in the early ‘90s. He was here a couple of times,” Barnes recalled. “When he came in to pay for the fuel, we had a nice chat for a few minutes. He was a U.S. senator from Ohio at the time.”
When the management change officially occurs, the town will have staff help to handle the bookkeeping at the airport. The new airport manager will be Willis Shutt, who’s worked there for roughly 15 years already.
“I highly recommended him to the town and they agreed,” Barnes said of Shutt. “He’s been working here 15 years, interrupted by the time he worked for Air Preheater. Not only did he maintain our (Wellsville Flying Service’s) airplanes and customers’ airplanes, but a large part of his responsibility was maintaining the airport.”
Maintaining the airport, for Shutt, included looking after equipment such as snowplows, snowblowers and the airport runway and taxiway lighting system.
“I actually worked for the airport when I was 16, in a summer youth program,” Shutt said. “When Gary took over, I started working for him from 1998 to 2006. I left for about 3.5 years. I came back in 2009 and I’ve been here ever since.” Shutt said there’s some aspects of a management job he’s never done, noting he’ll have to learn some of the office work involved.
“I’ve been involved in all the capital projects we’ve had up here. Most of that is not new to me,” he said.
Of becoming airport manager officially on April 1, Shutt said, “Of course, you’re always kind of excited and nervous about it. I think things will go well. Hopefully we can get business in here — maintenance, flight training, charter … the busier we get, hopefully it increases revenue.”