Change in the air at Cottonwood Airport

At the Cottonwood Airport, the chairman of the Airport Commission has resigned. The Fixed Base Operator has left the airport. The city’s public works director has assumed management responsibilities and a new aviation flying club has formed.  VVN/Jon Pelletier

At the Cottonwood Airport, the chairman of the Airport Commission has resigned. The Fixed Base Operator has left the airport. The city’s public works director has assumed management responsibilities and a new aviation flying club has formed. VVN/Jon Pelletier

COTTONWOOD -- The Cottonwood Airport is going through some changes again.

The chairman of the Airport Commission has resigned. The Fixed Base Operator has left the airport. The city's public works director has assumed management responsibilities and a new aviation flying club has formed.

Last Tuesday, the Cottonwood City Council displayed a plaque to be presented to Aleck Gradijan. Gradijan resigned the chairmanship of the Cottonwood Airport Commission and was not on hand to accept the plaque.

City officials say the former chairman was instrumental in organizing and operating the commission, establishing its responsibilities and the airport's policy manual and getting a firm handle on the its management.

In a note to the Verde Independent, Gradijan says not everyone will be happy all the time.

"The airport has transcended, along with physical improvements, from no specified rules to defined order. In life, change is inevitable and, unfortunately, not easily accepted by most humans," Gradijan told the newspaper.

Dan Lueder, Cottonwood's development service manager, whose division oversees the airport, says that Gradijan has a lot of things going on right now and also lives in Flagstaff. He has put a lot of time into this airport, said Lueder.

Jim Moeny, who has been vice-chair of the commission, has taken over the chairmanship. Moeny has a lot of good ideas and will keep the board on track, said Lueder.

Airport Manager and Public Works Manager Tim Costello is moving his offices to the airport to operate the business side of the airport.

Costello says the airport will advertise for mechanical service to operate out of the hangar. That is the big need since Barnstormers ended its short stint as Fixed Base Operator at the Cottonwood strip.

"They just weren't able to make any money," said Costello. The timing was horrible since it's been such a bad period with general aviation down 20-30 percent."

"The airport has a high value for business, especially medical business," Costello notes. "Transient aircraft will continue to come. It is a great facility and we will keep it up and expand service. It has room to grow and add aircraft."

Lueder believes one of the incentives for the FBO had been handling fuel and sales dropped dramatically at that time. Now, fuel sales are beginning to rise slowly.

But, he also believes that with the city presence at the airport, Cottonwood will be able to market it better. "We have one of the best values on fuel of surrounding airports, for example."

A new users group, the Verde Valley Flyers, has given the airport a shot in the arm, too, with enthusiasm and good ideas that are easy and don't involve a lot of expense.

Lueder says one idea was to provide a simple luggage cart so that baggage can be moved to cars outside the gate. That is especially important for transient flyers after the gates close at 5 p.m.

The Verde Valley Flyers are pilots with planes at any of the four airports in the Verde Valley: Cottonwood, Sedona and the private strips at Rimrock and Montezuma Heights.

A social group, flyers take recreation trips to other airports, but they also have an interest in CAP and other youngsters' interest in aircraft.

Even though there are a number of legal cases surrounding the balloon crash from last October's Cottonwood Airfest, the commission is already planning another airport appreciation event this year, with talk of branding it a "fly-in," for aircraft that can fly to the event. There is also interest in hiring a professional organizer who can manage all the many small details that are necessary.

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