Airport Authority

Boards, Commissions & Committees


The Regular Meeting of the Municipal Airport Authority of the City of Fargo, North Dakota, was held Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at 8:00 a.m. in the Airport Boardroom.

The members present or absent were as follows:

Present: Linn, Blazek, Lind, Clark, Haugen
Absent: None
Others: Bossart, Piepkorn

Chairman Haugen presiding.

Approved the Airport Vouchers Totaling $68,014.65:

Mr. Blazek moved to approve the airport vouchers totaling $68,014.65.
Second by Dr. Clark.
On the call of the roll, members Linn, Blazek, Lind, Clark, Haugen voted aye.
No member being absent and none voting nay the motion was declared carried.

Approved the Individual Voucher to Sixel LLC:

Dr. Clark moved to approve the individual voucher in the amount of $2,780.00 to Sixel LLC for February passenger enplanement fees for Frontier Airlines.
Second by Ms. Linn.
On the call of the roll, members Linn, Blazek, Lind, Clark, Haugen voted aye.
No member being absent and none voting nay the motion was declared carried.

Approved the Individual Voucher to EideBailly:

Dr. Clark moved to approve the individual voucher in the amount of $2,150.00 to EideBailly for accounting services for the 2018 PFC audit procedures.
Second by Ms. Linn.
On the call of the roll, members Linn, Blazek, Lind, Clark, Haugen voted aye.
No member being absent and none voting nay the motion was declared carried.

Approved the Individual Voucher to Flint Communications:

Dr. Clark moved to approve the individual voucher in the amount of $47,276.00 to Flint Communications for partial payment request for 2019 Airport Marketing Program.
Second by Ms. Linn.
On the call of the roll, members Linn, Blazek, Lind, Clark, Haugen voted aye.
No member being absent and none voting nay the motion was declared carried.

Approved the Individual Voucher to Mead & Hunt:

Dr. Clark moved to approve the individual voucher in the amount of $1,406.00 to Mead & Hunt for partial payment request for engineering services for the CAT-II Feasibility Study.
Second by Ms. Linn.
On the call of the roll, members Linn, Blazek, Lind, Clark, Haugen voted aye.
No member being absent and none voting nay the motion was declared carried.

Approved the Individual Voucher to TL Stroh Architects:

Dr. Clark moved to approve the individual voucher in the amount of $111,180.00 to TL Stroh Architects for partial payment request for architectural and engineering services in connection with the Elevated Walkway.
Second by Ms. Linn.
On the call of the roll, members Linn, Blazek, Lind, Clark, Haugen voted aye.
No member being absent and none voting nay the motion was declared carried.

Approved Amended Airline Operating Agreement with UPS:

Mr. Dobberstein stated when we entered into an Airline Operating Agreement with UPS last year it was our intent to have the agreement exactly the same as our agreement with FedEx. He stated we recently discovered that UPS had inadvertently omitted two paragraphs under Article IV – Fees to be Paid by Airlines, pertaining to ARFF charges and reimbursement for the cost of security ID badges. He stated he has contacted the UPS properties person and Attorney Bossart will draft an amended agreement and we will forward it to UPS for their signature.

Mr. Blazek moved to approve the Amended Airline Operating Agreement with UPS.
Second by Mr. Lind.
All members present voted aye and the motion was declared carried.

Authorized Purchase of Snow Removal Equipment:

Mr. Dobberstein stated as we have discussed recently, we are in need of another snow blower and two high speed brooms. He stated we have received a price of $735,395.00 for an Oshkosh snow blower and a price of $1,237,317.00 for two Oshkosh brooms. He stated these would be purchased through the HGACBuy (Houston-Galveston Area Council), which is a procurement service available to government entities nationwide. He stated this equipment is needed for the next winter season.

Mr. Dobberstein stated we are also in need of a spray truck but MB does not currently have their trucks available through Sourcewell or HGACBuy. He stated another option we may have, and we are having Attorney Bossart look into this for us, is to piggyback off the bid that the Sioux Falls Airport just completed. He stated we will get the Sioux Falls bid documents and review them and see if that is possible. He stated the cost of that truck was just under $800,000.00. He stated this is a large truck that would handle all of the liquid chemicals needed on the airfield. He stated this larger truck would significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to treat the airfield.

Ms. Linn asked Mr. Dobberstein to again share the reason that we have this need for this additional snow removal equipment.

Mr. Dobberstein stated the amount of time that our crew is on the airfield has been significantly increased due to the number of operations with the cargo operations of FedEx and UPS. He stated this new equipment will help us to clear the airfield in significantly less time that our current equipment. He stated that all of the costs for these pieces of equipment are recoverable through PFC funds.

Mr. Blazek moved to approve the purchase of the snow removal equipment as proposed.
Second by Ms. Linn.
All members present voted aye and the motion was declared carried.

Discussed Airlines Operational Performance:

Mr. Dobberstein stated he would like to give some background information on why we are discussing airline operational performance. He stated there are a lot of people in attendance today to discuss this issue and he thanked them for being here.

Mr. Dobberstein stated since late December to the present we have seen significant operational issues with some of the airline performance. He stated that there are three ground service companies operating in Fargo that handle ticket counter and ramp operations for the airlines. Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) handles the operations for Allegiant Air and Sun Country charters, Envoy handles the operations for American Airlines, and Delta Global Services (DGS) handles the operations for Delta, United and Frontier. He added that the Airport Authority is not party to any of the agreements between airlines and ground service companies.

Mr. Dobberstein stated we have seen long waits to get airplanes to gates once they have landed, excessive amounts of time to get luggage, waiting to de-ice, and waiting at ticket counters for up to an hour. He stated we have seen a complete lack of staff, lack of trained staff and unreliable ground service equipment. He stated the airlines have six de-icing trucks on the airport and at times most of them are not working. He stated FedEx and UPS have their own de-icing trucks, as well as Fargo Jet Center. He stated hopefully things have improved in the last few weeks as attention has been drawn to the problem.

Mr. Dobberstein stated we have observed numerous times when there has been poor communication among staff and lack of communication and cooperation with other airlines resulting in problems with access to gates, pushback tractors, etc.

Mr. Dobberstein stated the airport has been obliterated on social media by passengers who have been impacted by these things that are completely out of our control. He stated we try to respond to those as timely as we can. He stated a lot of it starts with misinformation that passengers are given. He stated often flight crews will advise passengers that it’s the airport this or the airport that when it has nothing to do with us. He stated we are not alone in this and it is not unique to Fargo. He stated another airport director he knows was on board a flight and the pilot blamed the airport for whatever problem they were having with a de-icing truck. He stated he talked to the crew following the flight and they had no clue that the airport was not responsible for those functions but rather the airline. He continued that conversation with as many flight crews coming into his airport for the next few days and encountered the same reaction. The crew was not aware of the airline responsibilities vs. airport responsibilities.

Mr. Dobberstein stated there is a team of airline representatives that are here today:

Jeff Neikirk, Delta Global Services
Jason Ashley, United Airlines
Eric Shockley, Delta Global Services
Jeff Weaver – United Airlines

Mr. Dobberstein stated up until about 5:15 pm last night we thought someone from Delta Air Lines was going to be here but Delta has chosen to put all communications and any questions through their Corporate Communications (Mr. Michael Thomas). He stated Delta has been working with Dave Olson from The Forum. He stated they are trying to come out and get ahead of this in a public setting and take some public ownership of this. He stated he is not sure where United is on that.

Mr. Dobberstein stated both airlines have assured us that the impacted passengers have been contacted. He stated for us it is also about prospective passengers that have read the horrible experiences on social media. He stated the airport’s reputation is at stake and has been damaged significantly by what has happened over the past few months. He stated we believe that it started with the change in ownership in Delta Global Services which occurred on or about January 1. He stated Argenbright took over majority control of DGS and Delta Air Lines now owns only 49% of it. He stated he believes there were changes in employee flight benefits and there was a mass exodus of employees from the Fargo station. He stated we saw this coming about Thanksgiving and they lost a lot of good people in the last few months. He stated we have people here trying to right the ship but unfortunately it took a while to bring TDY employees from other stations.

Mr. Dobberstein recognized Mr. Joe Raso, Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, and Charley Johnson, FM Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Mr. Dobberstein stated we have been preaching to the airline companies that the wages they are paying are too low and they will not be able to find and keep employees. He stated he put Mr. Raso in touch with Mr. Jeff Neikirk and they exchanged information to do a wage study which Mr. Newkirk can take back to Delta, United and Frontier to renegotiate their contract to increase wages.

Mr. Dobberstein stated these issued impact not only the airport but the businesses in the area and the complaints never seem to end. He stated we need to get the reputation of the airport restored.

Chairman Haugen stated he is a retired airline captain and over the years he has seen what management has done to airlines. He stated there is good management and there is crappy management. He stated he has seen some really big name airlines come and go. He stated it starts with deteriorating customer service and that is what they have going on right now. He stated we saw it coming months ago and nothing was done. He stated the Airport Authority members are being personally blamed for the failure of the airlines. He stated he is tired of having people look at us as the culprits. He stated maybe we need the names of the airline representatives in this room to post their names and phone numbers on a sign in the baggage claim area telling passenger to call them if their luggage is late or lost.

Chairman Haugen stated he knows Fargo is not a big hub but in January we had 37,000 passengers using these airlines. He stated he would like to see us send a letter to the chief pilot of every airline involved and explain to them the negative aspects of crews stating a problem is the airport’s fault when it is not. He stated flight attendants should be included in this.
Chairman Haugen stated he is glad these representatives are here and asked any other board members to make comments.

Mr. Lind stated he would like to hear from the guests first.

stated he has spent 25 years working with various airports in Iowa and Colorado. He stated he has been in Fargo about eight months now. He shared two personal flight experiences of family members that have been unlike anything they have experienced before. He stated he thought maybe it was just him but he kept on hearing comments from business leaders and others in the community. He stated he contacted Shawn and he graciously shared some information with him. He stated he then asked Shawn how the EDC could help. He stated they conducted an air service survey just in the last two and a half days and he provided the results of that survey among primary sector companies. He stated they received a 29% response rate, which is very high. He stated Delta and United are the airlines used most by the business traveler. He stated this community has a lot of pride in this airport and being a new resident to the region he gets good comments all the time. He stated recently the comments have been “what happened to our airport?”

Mr. Raso stated they work with site location consultants and businesses looking for cities in which to locate and they don’t have to locate their businesses in this region. He reviewed the results of the survey they conducted. He also reviewed the wage information on airline positions.

Mr. Raso stated as the Economic Development Corporation they are here to partner with the Airport Authority and the airlines to resolve this problem. He stated what passengers have been experiencing in the last three to four months is not representative of the history of customer service at this airport.

Mr. Piepkorn was recognized and asked if there are any airports that handle de-icing and other operations and then bill the airlines for the service.

Mr. Dobberstein stated there are a few in the country but in areas where they do not deal with de-icing much. He stated they struggle with finding enough employees also.

Mr. Raso stated most business people don’t know all of the operations of an airport and who is responsible for what, but after 25 years in economic development, the response they get from business people regarding this and various other problems in a community is, “I don’t care, just get it fixed.” Mr. Raso stated he and his team are committed to doing whatever they can to help.

Mr. Charley Johnson, FM CVB, was recognized and stated he does not have the detailed data Mr. Raso provided, but he did share some experiences from his staff and all of the stories are very similar. He stated if people visiting Fargo have a bad experience they are not going to want to come back and no one moves here or starts a business here unless they visit first. He stated if their first impression is that the airport cannot get them in and out of the community in a timely and pleasant fashion that is going to have a negative impact on their decision.

Mr. Johnson stated he appreciates Mr. Dobberstein setting up this meeting today and the opportunity to voice concerns and implored the authority to do something about fixing this problem. He stated he hates to sound so negative but it is important that we get this fixed for everyone concerned. He added that he personally has heard flight crews on flights making fun of this airport.

Mr. Chris Wilson, Chief of Staff, North Dakota State University, was recognized and stated he is here today on behalf of President Bresciani. He stated President Bresciani wanted him to express the frustration he has been hearing about and also has experienced personally with air travel in Fargo. He stated our research, trade and agriculture is not only important on a local, regional and national level but also on an international level. He stated when we bring visitors to Fargo the first and last thing they see is the airport. He stated as far as recruiting students to the school and people to Fargo we already have the issue to overcome that people think we are too far north, too cold and too remote. He stated we all have to work together to get this resolved.

Mr. Jeff Neikirk, Regional Manager for Delta Global Services, was recognized and stated it has been painful to hear the comments this morning. He stated it has been a tough winter and it has taken its toll on our staff and leadership. He stated the majority of the pressures and challenges they have seen have been in the last 60 days. He stated even though the timing coincides with the new ownership and leadership of DGS he does not know that has any bearing on the situation. He stated as far as flight privileges for employees, there have been no changes in flight privileges for incumbents. He stated it has changed for their recruiting. He stated as far as the wages, they do feel the pressure is there to make changes and they are looking into that. He stated he did appreciate being put in touch with Mr. Raso.

Mr. Neikirk stated they have already made some significant changes in their leadership structure, from frontline to corporate leadership. He stated that has been a recent change and Mr. Eric Shockley is the new District Manager for DGS and he will be here on a daily basis for the entire month of March and beyond. He stated we have brought in TDY employees from other stations and also a number of resources in terms of training, mentoring, etc. He stated DGS is in almost 200 locations and overwhelmingly we do it well and we do it right. He stated we do have locations where we have our challenges but we address them. He stated he is committed to changing things. He stated we are here to be a partner. He stated he thinks we are headed in the right direction and we should see improvements soon.

Mr. Dobberstein stated what we have asked for from both Delta and United is public ownership of this problem by the airlines. He stated we are going to insist on the airlines taking public ownership of this problem (newspaper, press release, social media) so that we can begin to restore the public’s confidence in this airport.

Mr. Neikirk stated the airline industry is a great industry and as a person who started out de-icing and cleaning aircraft he would ask the community to encourage people, specifically young, driven people, to consider getting into the airline industry.

Mr. Blazek asked Mr. Neikirk if he is actually asking us to recommend people to come to work for DGS for $8.50 an hour when they can work at a fast food restaurant for $11.00 and more per hour.

Mr. Neikirk stated there are a lot of upsides to working in the airline industry. He stated there is a lot of room for growth and they are going to review the wages.

Mr. Dobberstein stated the cold weather was definitely a challenge all across the northern tier of the country and it took its toll on equipment.

Mr. Lind stated this was not a weather issue, it is a toxic management issue that drove experienced, hardworking people away from DGS. He stated DGS had toxic management here and they didn’t do anything about it. He stated it takes weeks to get a new employee trained and even after that it takes a couple of months to leave an employee to perform on their own. He stated it takes a lot of adult mentorship for someone to be supervised and be able to perform the job. He stated DGS lost everyone who knew what they were doing and they are starting from zero so it could still be several months before getting back on track. He asked if they are going to maintain the TDY staff until the new staff is ready.

Mr. Neikirk stated mentoring is for the duration, whatever that takes. He stated some positions take longer for training than others.

Mr. Lind asked if DGS is going to try to hire back some of the employees that left because of the toxic management.

Mr. Neikirk stated if that was the reason and the employee left on good terms they would hire them back. He stated we don’t know the specifics.

Mr. Lind stated DGS needs to know. He stated he thinks it is shameful that DGS is trying to blame this on the weather because none of this was weather related. He stated weather may have been a contributing factor but he personally knows some people who left because they felt it was an awful place to work and that is something DGS can fix.

Ms. Linn thanked the airline representatives for being here because she knows this is an uncomfortable situation. She asked Mr. Neikirk the timeline of when they think the wage problem will be changed. She stated when the unemployment rate is as low as it is in Fargo it is a problem for employers. She asked if DGS does exit interviews with employees. She stated there is a reason that the windshield is many times bigger than the rear view mirror. She stated yes, things have happened, and we need to reflect on those but we need to look forward and see what we can do to solve the problems and make sure they don’t happen again.

Mr. Neikirk stated as far as wages it usually takes a few weeks to make that change but we have already started the process so we are a couple of weeks into it. He stated he could not give an exact time. He stated we don’t do exit interviews with frontline employees but that is a good idea. He stated if anyone knows a former employee interested in returning to DGS please refer them to him.

Mr. Neikirk stated the three main areas of change are going to be wages, recruiting strategy and leadership.

Mr. Neikirk stated he believes the wage change will be a little easier because of the pressures we have felt here. He stated they have already made the changes in leadership. He stated their recruiting strategy in the past has been the flight privileges they had to offer. He stated there are still flight privileges but they do have a low priority.

Mr. Dobberstein stated the new station manager in Fargo is Wayne Lougheed, a retired Air Wisconsin pilot. He stated that station manager has three airlines to operate – Delta, United and Frontier.

Ms. Linn stated she feels we really need to connect with the passengers. She stated the airlines need to make sure they are doing even those little things for passengers after an unfortunate incident, even if it is having pizza waiting for them. She stated we need to get back the reputation of the airport and the airlines. She stated the passengers are the reason we are all here. She stated we need to be more proactive to address those negative situations.

Mr. Neikirk stated Chairman Haugen recommended putting a sign with the airline representatives’ names and numbers by baggage claim. He stated he feels we should have a staff member dedicated to baggage issues. He stated there are baggage service offices at some airports but the baggage issues here are handled at the ticket counter and they need to do a better job. He stated they do stress to their agents that passengers have a first impression and a last impression.

Chairman Haugen stated the Airport Authority does a lot of advertising which benefits all of the airlines serving Fargo. He stated right now he does not see the reputation of this airport coming back for at least six months to a year because of the damage that has been done by the airlines.

Dr. Clark asked if DGS is recruiting now without knowing the increased wage?

Mr. Neikirk stated they are recruiting at the current rate right now and are receiving candidates. He stated he does not make any promises when they hire but the expectation is that the wage will be increased for everyone.

Mr. Jim Sweeney, Fargo Jet Center, was recognized and stated they fuel every airline operating on the field. He stated he will not go into dozens of stories as an airline passenger who has the highest flying status on one of the airlines. He stated he feels if the airport had one employee from each airline (the company who has their name on the billboard) here full time that would make a huge difference. He stated his frustration is with airlines having multi billion-dollar record profits and we can’t have one person from each airline here in Fargo. He stated the airline industry has changed so much in FJC’s brief twenty plus years in business on the airport and their relationships with the airlines.

Mr. Sweeney stated his first suggestion would be to have that one employee (mainline) from each airline stationed at this airport. He stated the second has to do with on-time departures and he knows while this is a federal issue there should be some common sense added to the process. He stated if the airline knows there is going to be a 90-minute delay for de-icing or a delay in Minneapolis, or whatever the situation may be, the industry has us boarding that aircraft and pushing away from the gate. He stated there is no logic to it other than to maintain a rating for on-time departures. He stated he knows he is not going to change the airline industry but he feels it is a valid point.

Mr. Sweeney stated he is a direct competitor for employees and Fargo Jet Center has 35 plus employees that do a lot of the same job functions the airlines employees do. He stated their starting wage is $14.00 per hour and his line manager is constantly pushing him to bump that up.

Mr. Sweeney stated he has one final suggestion for the airlines. He stated we do get cold weather here and the machines and equipment used in airline operations are adversely affected in sub-zero temperatures. He stated FJC is pleased to be the on-call maintenance service provider for every airline that operates in Fargo and they have attained the federal standard that allows them to hire us to do that service. He stated when it is 10 degrees or lower, call us the night before and have us here at 4:00 or 5:00 am, and even if you have to pay us a couple of hundred dollars to sit and drink coffee you will be much better off than calling us and waiting for us to respond. He stated even if they are responding from their shop it is a minimum 30 or 45-minute dispatch. He stated this would be an easy solution and it would save a lot of time.

Mr. Piepkorn asked if Fargo Jet Center does de-icing.

Mr. Sweeney stated they have a de-icing truck. He suggested the airlines have FJC on backup call. He stated they do not do a lot of de-icing on the aircraft hangered in their facilities.

Mr. Dobberstein stated we called FJC to assist when the airlines were down to only one de-icing truck but the problem was different aircraft require different types of de-icing fluid.

Mr. Sweeney stated the Airport Authority should never have had to have been involved this airline function. He stated this airport does a fabulous job with its airport operations. He stated this airport never closes because of the excellent work by the airport staff. He stated he can’t stand it when he hears someone report the airport in Fargo is closed when it never closes. He stated if he has to add three more de-icing trucks to his fleet for the next winter season that is no problem.

Mr. Sweeney stated the federal regulations for airline de-icing are ridiculous and do not use common sense. He stated aside from that, the airlines operating in Fargo need to have agreements in place for providing back-up for de-icing and other functions in place by August 1.

Mr. Lind stated he feels we are getting a little off-topic as the weather and mechanical issues are compounded only by the staffing issue, which is the majority of the problem. He stated this is a staffing issue! The problem is there are not enough people to properly handle the work load.

Mr. Jason Ashley, Senior Regional Manager, United Airlines, was recognized and stated he is the closest thing to United having an employee at the airport. He stated in terms of parking aircraft, he has given DGS the clear direction that parking the aircraft is absolutely paramount, even if it means taking a departure delay. He stated Mr. Jeff Weaver, general manager in Colorado Springs, has been here TDY since last week. He has been given direct oversight over the Fargo station and will continue until someone else is assigned.

Mr. Weaver was recognized and stated he has been working with Erik Olsen, who has been the acting station manager, and since March 1 they have reduced the on-in times to practically nothing. He stated he has been checking the data every night. He stated they have also been improving bag times and their goal is 20 minutes for the first bag. He stated he apologizes for everything that has gone on and they are trying to recover.

Mr. Dobberstein asked Mr. Ashley what has been done by United to take public ownership of this situation and acknowledge responsibility.

Mr. Ashley stated he has had conversations with United corporate communications and no decision has been made yet. He stated another avenue they are using is to contact those businesses in the area with United corporate accounts and proactively reach out to those passengers and their travel managers and have those discussions.

Chairman Haugen stated we will stand by to see the improvements.

Mr. Blazek stated he would like to see a 30-day follow-up from the representatives here today and get specific data on improvements.

Construction and Security Update:

Mr. Dobberstein stated Mr. Jeff Klein, Mead & Hunt, was able to meet with FAA representatives at the recent Upper Midwest Aviation Symposium in Bismarck. He stated we have not yet received a response from them on the status of our application for the supplemental grant for the cargo apron expansion.

Mr. Klein stated he did not get a firm response from the FAA. He stated they advised we may not receive supplemental funding but there is a possibility we may get AIP discretionary funding. He stated their reasoning for that is that under the rules of the supplemental funding the grants cannot be amended where they can be with discretionary funding.

Mr. Dobberstein stated the problem with that is we will have to commit two years of entitlement funds or $6 million, whereas the supplemental funding would require only one year of entitlements. He stated he has been in touch with a member of Senator Hoeven’s staff to re-engage the Senator’s efforts in promoting Fargo’s getting a grant.

Mr. Klein stated the frustration is that the message from the FAA is not getting to the airport on the plans for funding. He stated the airport needs to know so it can plan accordingly. He stated Mr. Dobberstein was not able to be in Bismarck so he is trying to set up a meeting with the FAA in person or via conference call.

Mr. Dobberstein stated he has an update on our TSA pre-check. He stated right now our pre-check line is not open at all times but they are looking at using a different procedure, which is used at some other airports, allowing the pre-check line to be operational at all times. He stated we have been told that a third lane is probably not in our future because they are about five years away from using biometrics which will speed up their screening process.

The meeting of the Municipal Airport Authority was adjourned until the next Regular Meeting to be held Tuesday, March 26, 2019, at 8:00 a.m.
Time at adjournment was 9:18 a.m.