Turners Falls Airport Manager Mounts Defense

MONTAGUE - Turners Falls Municipal Airport manager Michael J. Sweeney, backed by members of the town Airport Commission, last night defended his management of the airport.

Sweeney told the Board of Selectmen that his efforts to make the airport more self-sufficient and safe has not made him popular among hangar owners and pilots.

"It is understandable that the users would chafe . . . I have had to be firm, but I believe I did so in a respectful way," Sweeney said.

Last week, the 14-member Committee to Save the Turners Falls Airport with 162 signatures calling for Sweeney's ouster.

Committee member Richard Kulis of Gill said the 162, along with all hangar owners, includes 95 percent of pilots who fly out of the airport.

Another committee member, William Gibson, a pilot from Leverett, put the committee's contentions into a slide program he showed to the board. It included 20 aircraft owners, both flight instructors, and one of the airport's two mechanics who said they had been driven away.

"We've got a lot of empty slots there," he said of the places where planes would park.

He said also that under Sweeney the cost of having a hangar at the airport had gotten out of line. For the same hangar that would cost $2,252 in site rent and fees at Orange Municipal Airport, it would cost $14,872 at Turners Falls, Gibson aid.

He also said that owners are subject to "needless harassment" at times, including enforcement of a prohibition of not keeping "non-aviation" items in hangars, such as tables for snacking.

Josh Simpson of Shelburne, a hangar owner, said that complaints about Sweeney to the airport commission have gotten no response.

He told selectmen that "162 signatures is pretty damning."

Mark Fairbrother, a member of the Airport Commission, said the complaints were based in part on bad information, and should not be directed at the manager but at the commission.

"We make the decisions, not Mr. Sweeney," he said.

Commission chairman Brian Carroll said the goal of the commission is to make the airport more self-sustaining, and that all the regulating and pricing has been appropriate.

Pilot Peter Monroe said that when he first began landing at Turners Falls it was a busy place and people would go there to watch the planes. Now, he said, "nobody comes to watch planes" because there are too few to be seen.