Management Change Requested for Smith Field Airport in Indiana

One of the people most responsible for saving Smith Field from closure believes a change in management is needed if the small north-side airport is to remain open permanently.

Attorney Neil Hayes, who was appointed to the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority in August 2002 by the county commissioners, suggested in a letter to the commissioners Friday that the authority itself is best-equipped to manage Smith Field. Smith Field Air Service, a private company owned primarily by Dr. Stephen Hatch, has managed the facility since May 2003, but Hayes has been increasingly critical of the companys performance.

According to a financial analysis by airport authority staff members, the best business model for running (Smith Field) is by the authority taking up the stewardship. ... It seems to make sense that, before another debacle develops from a potentially hasty decision, that the authority exercise and employ the best business model. ... After all, the authority exists to run airports.

The board voted in 2002 to close Smith Field on July 1, 2003. Hayes predecessor, Charles Henry, supported closure. But Smith Field supporters mounted an aggressive campaign to save the airport, and Hayes appointment was crucial to their ultimate success. With Hayes vote to keep Smith Field open, and board member Dan Weavers change of heart, the board reversed itself and hired Smith Field Air Service to manage day-to-day operations.

Completion of a long-term plan for Smith Field has been delayed by a lawsuit challenging the boards authority, and Board President Mike Gouloff said in January he would begin to ask serious questions about Smith Fields future this month. The authority next meets Monday afternoon.

County commissioners first raised the management question in a Jan. 26 letter to airport board members. Smith Field Air Service General Manager Dan Reed said at the time that complaints were being made to Hayes and other officials by people who didnt have all the facts or who had ulterior motives.

They choose to be part of the problem ... instead of becoming part of the solution by being positive, cooperative and supportive, he said.

Hayes, however, believes direct management by the authority spells the best future utilization of taxpayer money.