Pilots received thousands of dollars worth of unauthorized discounts at Steamboat Springs Airport
Steamboat Springs — A personal injury lawyer who has secured seven-figure verdicts for his clients and a principal scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden are among the pilots who got thousands of dollars worth of unauthorized discounts on their hangar rentals last year at Steamboat Springs Airport.
A Steamboat Today review of short-term airport hangar rentals at the city’s taxpayer-funded airport dating back to 2011 found several irregularities, including a few cases where the airport staff charged some pilots significantly less for their stays at Bob Adams Field than other pilots of the same type of aircraft who rented the same hangar at the same time of year.
In February of 2015, a pilot of an AC-90 was charged $200 for a night in the J-1 hangar.
The very next day, records show a different pilot of another AC-90 was charged the normal $400-a-night rate for the same space in the same hangar.
Records show a similar situation occurred back in 2011.
In a four-month period last year, a series of unauthorized discounts given to seven pilots totaled $6,340.
The discounts were never approved by the city manager, and emails show they were a cause for concern at City Hall.
Steamboat Today requested the airport rental records after emails the paper obtained in a seperate open records request this summer showed that inconsistencies in the rental records had created friction between former airport manager Adam Kittinger and Public Works Director Chuck Anderson.
When the invoices for the seven unauthorized discounts in 2015 were flagged internally and questioned by the city administration, Kittinger acknowledged the administration would not like the justifications given for the discounts.
“I understand that the ‘reasons’ (for the discounts) I highlighted on the receipts are not what you or I want to see, but I assure you we will get this resolved, corrected and updated,” Kittinger wrote to Anderson in a March email.
The personal injury lawyer from Florida received the biggest discount.
Records show he paid $1,065 to keep his Cessna in a hangar for 45 nights starting in July 2015.
The emails show he was given a “summer rate” that doesn’t officially exist in the city’s approved list of rental fees.
Under the city’s hangar rental rates that were approved by the Steamboat Springs City Council and city manager, the pilot should have paid an additional $3,510, or 77 percent more.
In another email from the records request, Kittinger labeled the discount that FBO manager Mike Gagnebin gave to the lawyer as a “handshake deal.”
In other emails, Kittinger backed up the FBO employees and suggested they had made good business decisions. But he claimed the deals had been going on for years at the airport.
The other flagged transactions showed a pilot paid $400 to keep a PA-46 in a hangar for two weeks in July 2015, when the city’s rates called for a bill that should have totaled $1,475.
Other discounts ranged from $100 to $855.
Airport staff defended the discounted rates, saying the hangars were sitting vacant, the hangar owners endorsed the deals and the pilots would not have paid the higher rates set out in the city’s budget book.
The FBO staff ultimately felt the discounts were necessary to make the airport more competitive.
They also wanted to secure more revenue for the airport and ward off potential “bad press” they felt they could get from disgruntled pilots.
In the spring, the administration initially cracked down on the discounts and ordered the airport manager to hold staff members who were giving them accountable.
“As we have discussed previously, fees are set by the City Manager and any authority to add/change/delete lies with the City Manager, not me nor you or airport employees,” Anderson wrote in an email to Kittinger after several discounts were discovered.
Kittinger was eventually fired in June after butting heads with the city administration over airport operations.
The emails show he was working on ways to improve the hangar rental process before his departure.
He also had expressed frustration that he was taking flak from Anderson for the hangar rental discrepancies because he thought the handshake had been going on for years before he arrived.
Even after the anomalies were presented to City Hall, Anderson and City Manager Gary Suiter approved a $1,660 discount for a pilot of a citation 5 jet in April.
The city is also letting the airport continue to offer almost all pilots at the airport a 25-cent-a-gallon discount that has not been officially approved by the City Council.
Kittinger had raised concerns about this discount, saying he couldn’t find any documented policy on it.
All pilots at the airport get it unless they pilot a government aircraft or an emergency aircraft not based at the airport.
Airport staff say government and emergency aircraft rarely fuel up at the airport.
The city was unable to provide Steamboat Today with the value of the discount on an annual basis.
With 109,463 gallons of aviation and jet fuel sold at Bob Adams Field last year, the discount could have totaled as much as $27,365.
Asked last month about the inconsistencies in the rental records, Suiter and Anderson said steps were being taken to ensure no more unauthorized discounts are being offered at the airport.
Suiter, who himself has served as an airport manager in the past, said he felt the airport had been “under-managed” in the past.
“The only consistencies I’ve found at airports are inconsistencies,” he said.
Suiter said he is looking to new airport manager Stacie Fain to bring consistency to the airport and make improvements.
Asked if he regularly monitors the invoices for hangar rentals to check for inconsistencies, Anderson said he reviews them off and on.
Fain said Thursday she is working with consultants to study the airport’s hangar rental rates and fees. She said changes could be proposed in the future.
Fain said airport employees who offered the discounts were trying to provide the best customer service.
Gagnebin said one of the discounted hangar rates was given to a pilot who was stranded here.
Fain said the lack of flexibility in the hangar rentals is an issue, and hangars should be viewed similarly to a hotel room or airline seat, with values that increase and decrease depending on demand and the time of year.
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