Grand River Aviation begins negotiations for FBO contract

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Keith and Joanna Whitemarsh, of Grand River Aviation, move forward in negotiations to become the next Fixed Based Operation at the Kremmling Airport.
Keith and Joanna Whitemarsh, of Grand River Aviation, move forward in negotiations to become the next Fixed Based Operation at the Kremmling Airport.

by Marissa Lorenz

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) directed staff on Tuesday to enter into negotiations for the new Airport Field Based Operator (FBO) contract with Grand River Aviation, LLC, owned by Keith and Joanna Whitemarsh of Kremmling.

In a written letter to the Board, the Airport Advisory Committee unanimously recommended Grand River Aviation, stating, “As a whole, we feel that Grand River Aviation will be a good partner for Grand County and the surrounding communities. With their current plans and aviation knowledge, they are the best fit for the position.

“Keith and Joanna Whitemarsh have a strong tie to the community and have proposed a hands-on approach to management. Many highlights that we see in their proposal include their plans for community involvement, the surrounding schools, and increased flight training. Lastly, their vision for increasing the services for larger aircraft and the need to expand to accommodate more diverse clientele will benefit everyone involved.”

Keith has his private pilot’s license, has logged over 300 hours flight time, over 200 hours as Pilot in Command, with 755 landings, and has hangered his Cessna 182 at McElroy Airfield for the past eight years. He is a mechanic at Freeport McMoRan’s Henderson Mill, and has been working with Alpine Wings, the current FBO, to learn current airport operations.
Joanna is a Kremmling native with a long career in local retail and construction management.

She is highly skilled in marketing, customer service, cooperative planning. Her father is a pilot, and she has been around McElroy Airfield for most of her life. Besides taking over the current FBO responsibilities and eventual full responsibilities for fuel operations at McElroy Airfield in Kremmling and potentially Emily Warner Airfield in Granby, Grand River Aviation has offered a number of expansions of duty in their proposal.

They offered additional plowing and maintenance of runways, which is currently done by County Road & Bridge staff. They plan to purchase or build a structure to house an FBO office with reception area, public waiting area, public restroomss, flight planning facilities, classroom space, public telephone, hangar space for training airplane, mechanic workspace and rental space.

They further envision possible growth to ramp services, including towing, parking, and taxi guidance; operation of Unicom radio, issuing advisories & needed information involving the airport operations; tug services; assistance with accommodation and food service arrangements and delivery; car rentals; a courtesy vehicle for airport guests; hosting Fly-ins, pancake breakfasts, and public tour days; and development of a work-study program with local youth and schools.
“We are very excited to be moving forward!” said Joanna, on behalf of Grand River Aviation.

“Being the new Fixed Base Operation will allow us to integrate our two passions, love of aviation and service to our community and county!”

The Grand River Aviation proposal was one of two received in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) put forth by the County when Jim Ward of Alpine Wings indicated that he would not be seeking to renew his 25-plus year FBO contract upon its expiration in April 2021. A second proposal was received from S7 Aviate, LLC, owned by John and Heather Stein of Hot Sulphur Springs.

Operation of the airport’s fuel system has been a challenge in the RFP process. Up until this point, Grand County has owned and maintained the fuel system and is paid a minimal percentage of fuel costs. The arrangement is unusual in such relationships, and the County would like the new FBO to take over full responsibility for the fuel system, with the option to do the same in Granby. Neither applicant was initially enthusiastic about this part of the contract.

With the given recommendation, County staff also advised a phased approach to the fuel system transition, “in order to ensure the greatest long-term success to both the FBO and the County.”

That recommendation further suggested that Airport management “provide a training period to assist the new FBO operator in fuel system familiarization and in obtaining the proper training for site maintenance, fuel quality, compliance, and safety.”

Ultimately, the FBO would be expected to maintain the fuel facility, including all maintenance, repairs, compliance fuel ordering, pricing, quality assurance, and accounting reports. The operator would pay a flowage fee to the County for every gallon sold, a cost which would be negotiated periodically.

Staff acknowledged the age of the current fuel system and a concern for the longevity of fuel operations if it is not updated or replaced within the next five years. They indicated that they would be seeking monies through the Colorado Division of Aeronautics for decommissioning the current fuel system, a cost that would likely be shared by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Ward has more recently indicated his desire to end Alpine Wing’s FBO contract early, at the end of the calendar year, in order to facilitate taxes, insurance payments, et cetera.

At this time and with contract negotiations just beginning, County Manager Ed Moyers states that a termination date with Alpine Wings will not be determined until a contract has been successfully negotiated and executed with Grand River Aviation.