Airport fly-in

The Northwest Missouri Regional Airport in Maryville is shown in 2017. The Airport Board met last week in an attempt to get regular meetings off the ground.

MARYVILLE, Mo. — Attempting to bring the board back from a state of de facto suspension, members of the Maryville Airport Board met last week for the first time in more than two years — or, maybe they didn’t.

Although the members were present, the meeting was not official because no minutes were taken nor any other official records kept, and even if they had been, it’s unclear whether city officials would have recognized the board members’ authority to still serve on the board and call meetings.

The status of the Airport Board, which is charged by city code with generally overseeing the operations and maintenance of Northwest Missouri Regional Airport, is murky at best.

Technically, the board has not officially met since sometime in 2019.

In January 2020, the City Council was prepared to nix the board entirely at the recommendation of city staff, who said the board no longer served much of a function after a shift in how the airport operated, and voiced some concerns about the board being dominated by pilots whose focus was not always on the macro issues facing the airport, but on more micro ones like day-to-day maintenance.

“To my knowledge, everybody that was an Airport Board member had a plane either in their own building or in storage at our airport,” said City Manager Greg McDanel on Tuesday.

It wasn’t that the input wasn’t appreciated, McDanel said, but that the advisory board wasn’t necessary to get input that should be heard anyway. And, because of a shift in how the airport operated, the role of the board had been greatly diminished — the primary reason the board was slated to be shuttered last year.

In 2017, the city eliminated the airport manager position, which had been held by Kevin Rankin since 2003. Rankin’s company had also served as the airport’s fixed-base operator. FBOs provide services for general aviation aircraft like fueling, hangaring and other maintenance activities.

Since that time, the city has essentially acted as the airport’s FBO, which is not especially unusual for small, rural airports like Northwest Missouri Regional. But the board members present at last week’s meeting — all of whom are pilots — said the services offered have been cut significantly.

Prior to the 2017 change, the airport manager and FBO reported to the Airport Board, which reported to the council. Once the airport manager position and FBO were eliminated, however, much of the board’s purpose went with it. Instead, maintenance services at the airport now are provided by city employees, who report to Assistant City Manager Ryan Heiland.

Airport Board President Bruce Twaddle, though, is looking to find that purpose again, he said at last week’s meeting.

After more than two years of stalling out, Twaddle called the meeting to try and kickstart the board.

“We’re not trying to start a fight or anything like that, all we’re trying to do is move forward,” Twaddle said. “In my mind, that’s it. But it’s a dereliction of our duties, as pilots and people that care about the airport, if we don’t try to push the envelope here, you know?”

In a presentation aimed at City Council liaison to the Airport Board Dannen Merrill, who was in attendance, Twaddle and the holdover Airport Board members made their case for a board that could bring a vision for the airport’s future to the table.

At the center of the group’s pitch was a proposal to work on starting a program to offer Airframe and Powerplant licenses at the airport. A&P licenses are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to become an aviation maintenance technician.

“I don’t know if the public knows this, but aviation is a huge deal, and the future is really bright,” Twaddle said. “The future is bright for pilots, the future is bright for mechanics.”

Twaddle said that based on preliminary discussions with Jeremy Ingraham, director of Northwest Technical School, he thinks a revitalized Airport Board could lead the way on building support for such a program through a partnership with NTS.

Such a plan would require clearing numerous administrative and, potentially more daunting, financial hurdles. In order to offer the proper facilities for a program like the one Twaddle proposed, he said a significant amount of funding would likely have to be found and raised.

That challenge, he said, was one an Airport Board would be perfectly suited to tackle.

“We shouldn’t be selfish about this at all, and if you wanna be selfish, you shouldn’t serve on this board, that’s not what it’s about,” Twaddle said. “It’s about serving Maryville and the greater northwest (Missouri) community.”

McDanel, who along with Heiland were unable to attend last week’s meeting because they were at the annual Missouri City/County Management Association conference in the Lake of the Ozarks, said he welcomed Twaddle’s proposal, though agreed with Twaddle that much work would be required to find adequate funding.

“It’s obviously a great idea, a great concept that should be supported,” he said. “It’d be great for the airport.”

Merrill, the council member liaison, said he was “encouraged” by Wednesday’s meeting, even though it was unofficial, and will make his report to council with the board’s hopes and concerns. He said that if the council decides to put the board back into active service, the composition would likely have to be diversified somewhat beyond only pilots.

“When talking to council, and still to this day, I think there could be a role for an airport board — and there should be a role for an airport board — if it’s structured in the right way,” McDanel said. “(We) certainly need members on that board, in my opinion, that would be general (aviators), even somebody who holds a lease out there — but it can’t be comprised of all of that, there needs to be a little bit of balance, in our opinion at least, of how you comprise that board moving forward.”