Pilots, Hangar Owners Ask for Removal of Turners Falls Airport Manager

MONTAGUE, Mass. - A committee dissatisfied with the management of Turners Falls Airport last night presented the Board of Selectmen with a petition asking that airport manager Michael J. Sweeney be removed from his post.

The petition, which was drawn up by the new Committee to save Turners Falls Airport, contained 162 signatures.

The board took no action, but said it would schedule a discussion on the request after checking with its lawyer to see whether the discussion should be held in open or executive session.

Sweeney, who was at last night's meeting, did not comment on the petition. However he said later that his goal since his hiring in 2003 has been to make the airport financially self sufficient. He also said he has the support of the airport commission, to which he answers.

"The commission is proud of what we've done over the last three years," he said.

Some members of the commission were on hand and confirmed that there was a unanimous vote of support for Sweeney taken by the commission at its last meeting, earlier this month.

Richard Kulis of Gill, representing the 14-member petitioning committee, all of whom are either hangar owners, plane owners, or pilots at the airport, said that all of the hangar owners signed the petition, as did 95 percent of pilots - all that could be reached.

"We didn't run into one person who did not want to sign it," he said.

The petition was accompanied by several pages of complaints about Sweeney's management and policies, which the signers said have driven people from using the airport, and on to others, particularly Orange Municipal Airport.

"The incentive to do business at the Turners Falls Airport no longer exists," the petition states.

Petitioners said Sweeney has led the Turners Falls Airport Commission into prohibitive price increases for hangar site leases. They also said his management has driven away mechanics, aircraft owners and flight instructors.

The decline in use of the airport can be seen in certain statistics, petitioners said. For example, they said that in 2000 there were more than 30 planes renting tie-down space near the runway, and now there are only 7.

In 2003 more than 60,000 gallons of aviation fuel was dispensed at the airport, compared to 7,000 gallons in 2006, petitioners said.

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