BETHEL – Airport Manager Scott Cole took responsibility Friday for purported unsolved problems with the town’s airport fuel system.

In October 2002, the town purchased a self-serve 100-octane AVGAS fuel storage and dispensing system for about $80,000.

Although the system has a capacity of 12,200 gallons, an initial fuel delivery of 8,000 gallons was received in January 2003.

Since then, Cole said, a number of operational deficiencies have been encountered and addressed with varying success.

They include excessive pump noise, excessive vibration, excessive hose take-up speed, and discrepancy between mechanical meter display of fuel volume dispensed and electronic printed credit card statement of fuel volume dispensed.

Aviators using Bethel Regional Airport have repeatedly brought the discrepancy problem to both Cole and the Bethel Airport Authority for more than a year, said area pilot Tony Milligan at the authority’s Sept. 15 meeting.

“The issues have never been satisfactorily resolved,” Milligan said.

Milligan said that after fueling, the mechanical fuel dispensing gauge does not match the electronic gauge, thus, causing what appears to be an overcharge to the customer.

“The discrepancy is a half gallon or more depending on how much fuel was pumped. The larger the quantity, the larger the discrepancy, usually,” he said.

Cole said Friday that the typical discrepancy was 0.10 to 0.20 gallons per sale.

“Spot-checking indicates that the customer was receiving the volume purchased, but this could not be verified with certainty,” he said.

Following initial complaints, Cole said that in October 2003, he turned the matter over to the airport assistant and checked with the system vendor.

He said he was told that a problem didn’t exist, and that pump vibration might be causing the skewed mechanical display.

“Based on this conversation, I felt the problem had been cured,” Cole said.

More complaints in April 2004 prompted more calls to the vendor and an on-site check.

“It was our impression that there was not a problem,” he said.

In August, Cole had several town employees use the town credit card and simulate fuel purchases of several small volumes.

Again, they found no problem with the system or its display.

But aviators using the system continued to complain about its alleged inaccuracies.

That has forced Cole to admit that there is a problem, and that it has not been resolved. But he sought to take the blame, rather than have Airport Authority members continue to shoulder it.

“Recent criticism of the Airport Authority for this problem is regrettable. Please accept my apologies,” he wrote in a memo to the board Friday.

Milligan said Maine law requires Bethel to have the pump properly calibrated and certified by an authorized Sealer of Weights and Measures. That certification, he said, costs $8 annually.

Cole said a qualified state official is expected on-site Friday, Sept. 24, to inspect the town’s airport fuel system and to make adjustments as needed.

“If problem resolution is not achieved through this measure, the system vendor will once again be contacted and other alternatives will be explored,” he stated.

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