Airport Director Raul Aguallo returns to work after investigators find no wrongdoing

Western Nebraska Regional Airport Manager Raul Aguallo returned to the job March 18 after being cleared of any wrongdoing in a Nebraska State Patrol investigation into airport procedures. Aguallo, who was on administative leave, said it would take him about a month to get back up to speed.

After a 63-day hiatus, Western Nebraska Regional Airport Director Raul Aguallo back on the job.

Aguallo had been on temporary paid administrative leave since January when unspecified allegations were made to the Scotts Bluff County Airport Authority Board.

The board spent about two hours in closed session during its monthly meeting to discuss results from an investigation conducted by the Nebraska State Patrol.

“I’ve been working in airports for the past 18 years so I’m happy to be back to work,” Aguallo told the media after the meeting adjourned. “I’m glad the board had faith in me because the investigation found no wrongdoing on my part.”

His reinstatement includes a 60-day probation period to address some changes to current internal policies.

“I’ve learned you have to have paperwork for everything,” Aguallo said. “You have to track everything because there will also be people who misinterpret things.”

One of the areas he mentioned was implementing better record keeping for vehicle checkout, rather than the process just being at the discretion of the director.

Another issue will be to keep better track of actual employee hours worked, rather than just recording an eight-hour day.

Aguallo said it will probably take 30 days to get back up to speed but he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m not a businessman; I’ve always been an airport guy,” he said. “I concern myself with the future of this airport and making sure it operates well.”

One of his biggest concerns if he were terminated was about an upcoming Federal Aviation Administration inspection.

“We have a major inspection coming up,” he said. “If we lost our operating certificate for failing the inspection, we lose our commercial service. That wasn’t an option for me.”

He pointed out the airport used to have about 3,000 annual boardings under its former service provider. With SkyWest Airlines assuming air service about three years ago, the number of annual boardings has jumped to 18,000.

“The board described me as the pillar of the airport,” Aguallo said. “Because I’m in charge of all the things that need to happen, I need to be above reproach. Making some new protocols and putting them in writing will protect us all going forward.”

Aguallo has also been a state certified firefighter for the past 12 years. To keep his certification, he needs to attend an upcoming aircraft rescue firefighting class. He said that while he isn’t as active as he used to be, certification is still important in case he needed to help.

Another concern Aguallo will need to address is the shrinking number of airline boardings caused by the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

During the airport board meeting, members received a report that SkyWest was running at about 69% of total capacity for the month of February. To this date in March, that number dropped to 58%

Looking out into the half-empty airport parking lot, Aguallo said he wouldn’t be surprised the number would drop even further before the pandemic becomes less of a threat.

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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