Friday, January 13, 2012

Children fly for free this Saturday at Truckee-Tahoe Airport (KTRK), Truckee, California.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — On Saturday, Jan. 14, the Truckee-Tahoe chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA #1073) is hosting its monthly pancake breakfast and Young Eagles Flights.

Children age 8-17 who attend with their parents will have the opportunity to go flying for free out of Truckee Tahoe Airport.

It will be a fun-filled and educational morning. Breakfast starts at 8:30 a.m. Flight departures continue until 10:30 a.m., weather permitting.


Maine may lose business

The top executive with Kestrel Aircraft said he's not trying to pit Maine against Wisconsin, but he will locate the company's aircraft manufacturing plant in whichever state is first to put a viable financing package in front of him.

The aircraft maker announced in 2010 that it would move to Brunswick Landing, becoming the highest-profile business at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. The company is expected to employ as many as 600 workers building a new six- to eight-passenger turboprop plane.

But now there's a good chance that the manufacturing plant will be built in Superior, Wis., where officials are rapidly pulling together a mix of state and local financing to woo Kestrel.

Maine officials have failed to follow through on a financing plan he thought was in place in 2010, said Alan Klapmeier, chief executive officer and chairman of Kestrel.

"We did not say, 'Tell us your best offer and we'll go and play it against someone else,'" said Klapmeier. The company isn't interested, he said, in trying to "take a bunch of money from people and then go and take a bunch of money from someone else."

Klapmeier has an office in Duluth, Minn., which is across a Lake Superior bay from the Wisconsin city. In addition, some of the engineers working on the design of the plane are located in Duluth, so Superior has a geographic advantage.

Klapmeier said that the talks with Wisconsin officials are well along and he won't wait to see what Maine can do if Wisconsin puts a workable offer on the table first.

Wisconsin officials appear to be moving quickly to do that. This week, a Douglas County, Wis., committee unanimously approved selling 13.3 acres of land next to an airport to a city redevelopment agency, and the full county board is scheduled to vote on the plan next week.

Superior could then sell the land for $500,000 to Kestrel. Klapmeier said a trio of local agencies will loan the company about $3 million, and he's waiting for word from state officials on tax cuts and rebates that would help fund the project.

Calls to Superior's planning director were not returned Thursday.

"We're having a conversation about a deal that would do it," he said of his contact with officials in Wisconsin. "If there was a deal we could take in Maine, we'd take it."

Thought he had a deal

Klapmeier said he thought he had that deal when he announced that Kestrel would locate in Maine more than a year ago. He said that at a final meeting with regional and state economic development officials, he checked off the pieces of the package that Kestrel needed and asked if everyone agreed to do their part.

All the heads at that Augusta meeting nodded, he said, but the financing has not come through as he expected. Klapmeier declined to identify those he feels have failed to come up with the aid that he said Kestrel needs.

"There's no point in me talking about people who said they would do something," he said. The search for financing in Maine, Klapmeier said, "is much more complicated, which means less productive, than it ought to be."

Coastal Enterprises Inc., a private, non-profit community development and finance company, supplied part of the financing, putting together a package using federal New Markets tax credits to steer about $5 million in cash toward Kestrel. But the company was banking on about three times that amount, although CEI officials said they never indicated CEI would provide more help than that.

"We always told them we would try to get them as many of the (packages of) tax credits as we could, but it would not be all from us," said Charlie Spies, chief executive officer of CEI Capital Management, who added that the tax credit deal with Kestrel is one of the company's largest.

Klapmeier said that after the company announced the project in Brunswick, Kestrel officials were contacted by development officials from around the country, trying to woo the project from Maine before it was too far along.

The company turned away the suitors, he said, until the end of last summer.

"As my naive view that it was still going to get done in Maine waned, it became clear that we had to consider alternatives," Klapmeier said.

He said he dismissed most of the offers because they lacked specifics on the financing, but Wisconsin put together a plan that looked promising, leading the company to begin talks.

Klapmeier said no deal has been signed and officials in Maine are still trying to keep Kestrel Aircraft in Brunswick.

State still talking

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said the state is still talking to Kestrel officials, but she wouldn't offer information on the discussions.

"We will continue to move forward with Kestrel, but it would be premature to discuss the negotiations," which are being conducted by George Gervais, the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, she said.

"Maine doesn't have a lot of freebies" to offer, said Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which is in charge of redeveloping the former air base.

"I think they came here with good intentions and they want to be here," Levesque said of Kestrel. "But at the same time, I do understand that if they can't get the financing here, they will go where they can. They want to make Maine work, but if they can't make Maine work, they're going to go where it can work."

Levesque said MRRA has applied to the Treasury Department to be a New Market tax credit allocator like CEI. It has also requested the authority issue credits that could provide more than $15 million in cash for the company if it were all steered to Kestrel.

But there's no guarantee that MRRA will be approved as an allocator or get the amount it has requested and an answer isn't expected until sometime in February, Levesque said. In the meantime, he said, MRRA is trying to help Kestrel get together short-term financing to buy more time.

But Klapmeier doesn't seem interested in more time.

"This program is starved for cash and we are constantly missing opportunities" because of the time it has taken to nail down financing, he said. "We will not wait."

He noted that even if the manufacturing plant is built elsewhere, Kestrel Aeroworks, which repairs and upgrades aircraft, would stay in Brunswick, satisfying a requirement of the tax credit package.

That division employs about 25 workers, just a fraction of the employment the manufacturing plant will offer.

Klapmeier said locating in Maine seemed like a dream in 2010, but he seems resigned to it not coming true.

"We all thought it was going to work and it hasn't," he said.


Ficano's former top deputy alleges severance cover-up

Lawsuit alleges Wayne Co. exec misled commission on payouts promised to 15 appointees

By Joel Kurth, Christine MacDonald and Mike Wilkinson
The Detroit News

Detroit— The severance scandal engulfing Robert Ficano has exploded with the release of a lawsuit that revealed his former top deputy was promised a payout of at least $300,000 and rich pension enhancements.

Ficano also pledged big payouts to at least 15 top aides and orchestrated a cover-up to mislead the public and commissioners about them, according to the $25 million whistleblower suit that former Deputy Executive Azzam Elder filed late Wednesday.

The allegations come atop continued outcry over a $200,000 severance in September to former economic development czar Turkia Mullin that prompted an FBI investigation.

The claims from Elder are "more explosive than Turkia Mullin," said Commissioner Kevin McNamara, D-Canton Township.

"If it's true, (Ficano) has hidden public records from us and perhaps the FBI," McNamara said. "He's not just in trouble. This is a smoking gun."

Elder's suit includes a 2009 letter from Ficano promising the former deputy at least $300,000 but not more than $350,000 when he quit. The money was a reward for staying aboard and forsaking pay increases beyond his $150,000 salary.

The deal also provided pension boosts that, according to former county Auditor General Brendan Dunleavy, would have allowed Elder, 42, to retire at any time and collect $150,000 per year for the rest of his life.

"This is the craziest thing I've ever heard of," said Dunleavy, who argued Ficano didn't have the authority to revise a retirement without commission approval.

Elder never received the money, and Ficano rescinded the deals with other aides the day after The Detroit News reported on them in October.

In a statement Thursday, Ficano said he's "disappointed that Mr. Elder continuously refuses to accept responsibility for his own actions."

"It's unfortunate that after his voluntary resignation he has chosen to be dishonest about events during his tenure to better serve himself in this suit," Ficano said.

Elder is under investigation by the FBI, along with Mullin, who took a job as CEO with the Detroit Metropolitan Airport but was fired Oct. 31.

Elder resigned in early November, shortly after Ficano placed him and another aide on leave for their role in the Mullin payment. In December, an ex-staffer said in a deposition Elder ordered the Mullin severance.

Elder: Ficano knew of deal

Ficano's staff didn't address specific allegations in the suit Thursday. The claims contradict Ficano's many responses about the Mullin payout since the scandal erupted in late September.

Initially, he defended her deal as a "standard contract" and said Mullin was worth the money because she brought in investment commitments.

But in mid-October, when he suspended Elder and others, Ficano called the severance a "mistake" that was put together in a "sloppy manner."

Elder's suit alleges that Ficano knew of the deal all along. Elder claimed he urged Ficano to "come clean" with the public and commissioners investigating the Mullin deal.

"Ficano told (Elder) that he could not afford to come clean because the timing was bad and it would hurt him politically," according to the lawsuit filed by Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger's law firm.

The suit claimed Ficano staffers removed more than a dozen severance agreements "from each of the employees' personnel files" and failed to comply with media Freedom of Information Act requests.

The News has requested Elder's personnel file since October, but the county hasn't provided it.

The letter promising Elder a payout — which he was set to receive this February, according to a Feb. 11, 2011, letter attached to the suit — was missing from his personnel file when lawyers requested it, according to the suit. It later emerged.

The deal called for Elder to receive the severance because he turned down other jobs. It also allowed him to jump to a better pension plan that allowed him to use his two years' best pay as a base — and include the severance in calculating it.

Detroit employment law attorney Joel Sklar said he's never seen such a lucrative "golden parachute." He noted the deal was inked months after the stock market crash and should have been approved by the commission.

"The timing suggests that when everyone else, including government, is having a difficult time, it should have been subject to public disclosure," Sklar said.

"If this is what public employment offers, then people in the private sector need to take another look. It's exceptionally generous."

County sources said the Elder deal was rescinded in October. But Sklar said Elder might be entitled to the money because he didn't agree to void the deal.

The revelation comes despite repeated assurances from Ficano staffers that there would be no more severance bombshells.

Commissioners learned of the suit during a meeting in which they approved an ordinance barring future severances.

"This is unbelievable to me that someone would make this kind of agreement," said Commissioner Laura Cox, R-Livonia. "It's very troubling and it shows there was a lot of stuff going on that we weren't aware of."

Suit names commissioners

News of the Elder deal comes one week after Ficano released details of another — a 2004 settlement that enhanced the pension by as much as $1 million to a former administrator who accused him of illegal activities.

The deals have infuriated rank-and-file workers who have taken 10 percent pay cuts and layoffs, said Thomas Richards, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 101 that represents 687 roads workers.

Mullin's attorney, Raymond Sterling, said Elder's suit shows that Mullin "was and continues to be an innocent victim."

She is suing the airport authority, alleging wrongful discharge from a contract that guaranteed her a severance of nearly three years' pay — $750,000 — if she was fired without cause. Airport officials haven't said why they fired her, but said they had just cause.

The suit also names Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak and Commissioner Bernard Parker.

Elder alleged Parker's son, contractor Bernard Parker III, "harassed and pressured" county contractors, including Ghafari Inc., a Dearborn architectural firm. It has a contract for a $300 million jail, a deal that also is under scrutiny by the FBI.

Elder said Woronchak and Ficano blocked his request to investigate the allegations.

Parker, his son and Woronchak denied the claims. After reading the suit, Woronchak said he's not sure why he was named.

Parker III said his inquiry to Ghafari was a "cold call."

"There were a number of letters we sent to contractors … introducing our firm and asking for informal meetings," he said.

Although Elder quit voluntarily, his suit in Wayne County Circuit Court alleged wrongful discharge on claims that Ficano forced him out by creating "intolerable" working conditions.

His suit contradicts claims made in a November news release saying he left voluntarily and "never saw myself as having a long-term career in government."


Airport improvement plans available for review. Provincetown Municipal Airport (KPVC), Provincetown, Massachusetts.

PROVINCETOWN — The plans for 12 capital improvement projects at Provincetown Municipal Airport are open for public review through Feb. 10, the Cape Cod National Seashore announced Wednesday.

The projects, proposed by the town's airport commission, will cost about $10 million and will be completed over several years, airport Manager Arthur "Butch" Lisenby said Thursday.

The National Park Service owns the land on which the airport sits and licenses the airport activity.

Therefore, as required by federal law, the proposals are being vetted through the National Environmental Policy Act regulatory process.

A copy of the environmental impact report/environmental assessment on the proposal is available at

For more information, contact Superintendent George Price, Cape Cod National Seashore, 99 Marconi Site Road, Wellfleet 02667; 508-771-2144; or


New Mexico Governor Martinez announces plans to sell more state airplanes, reducing fleet from 8 to 3

SANTA FE, N.M. — Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday announced plans to sell more of the state's airplanes.

The governor said the state is putting two planes up for sale in the months ahead and eventually will reduce the number of state airplanes from eight to three.

"It is important for us to take these steps to ensure the size of the state air fleet is in line with how the planes should reasonably be used," Martinez said in a statement.

When Martinez took office in January 2011 the General Services Department owned four airplanes, the Department of Public Safety owned three planes and a helicopter, and one plane belonged to the Game and Fish Department.

Martinez sold the state's luxury jet for $2.5 million last August. That's less than half of what the state paid for the plane under former Gov. Bill Richardson. Also last year, the Department of Public Safety sold two planes that were deemed too costly to repair.

"We never needed a luxury jet, and clearly, there are other airplanes at GSD that need to be sold due to their ineffectiveness, high cost of repair or lack of use," the governor said.

Martinez says the further reductions are being made "to ensure the size of the state air fleet is in line with how the planes should reasonably be used."

According to state records, the governor made only seven trips in state aircraft last year.

The planes the General Service Department plans to sell include a grounded 1976 Beechcraft King Air and a 1983 Gulfstream Turbo Commander.

The reduction in planes will leave the agency with a 2006 Beechcraft King Air that will be used under limited circumstances by public officials and to transport doctors to rural areas of the state as part of the Children's Medical Services program.

The Department of Public Safety will own a Cessna 421 fixed-wing aircraft and an Agusta 109E helicopter. Game and Fish will continue to use its 2009 Vulcanair Observer.

The governor's office said a memorandum of understanding will be drafted between DPS and GSD that allows each agency to use the other's aircraft when it is available.

General Services Secretary Ed Burckle said the arrangement will result in a more efficient and cost-effective fleet.

State officials could not say how much money will ultimately be saved, citing variables such as fuel costs, flight time and expenses stemming from the sales process. However, they expect as much as $770,000 to be saved through the elimination of aircraft maintenance and operations costs once the fleet's downsizing is complete.

Air-Land Operation Installs New Inlet Jetty Beacon.Ocean City Municipal Airport (KOXB), Ocean City, Maryland.

OCEAN CITY -- The familiar beacon at the end of the north jetty at the Ocean City Inlet is back in place this week after a new tower was flown by helicopter from the Ocean City Municipal Airport last Friday and carefully lowered to a crew on the rocks below.

The 20-foot tall tower, which for years alerted boat traffic to the presence of the rock jetty and the entrance to the Inlet, along with its somber alarm signal that could be heard from miles around on the clearest of nights, was swept away during Hurricane Irene in August and was never seen again. When the height of the storm subsided, all that was left of the beacon was a rusty stub bolted to the giant rocks at the end of the jetty.

The Coast Guard beacon was one of over 500 aids to navigation destroyed during Hurricane Irene in the mid-Atlantic region alone, and certainly the most conspicuous. Last Friday, after months of planning and preparation, a new 20-foot, 3,500-pound tower was delivered by Coast Guard helicopter to the Inlet jetty and secured by a crew below in a highly efficient operation once it got started.

Crews from the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation teams (ANT) in Chincoteague and Elizabeth City, N.C. built the new tower and shipped it to the Ocean City Municipal Airport about two weeks ago. Last Friday, the new tower was hoisted by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and carried across Assateague and the open ocean before arriving over the Inlet jetty.

Just before the helicopter arrived over its destination, a Coast Guard ANT crew from Chincoteague scrambled out to the end of the rocky jetty to receive the cargo. After a couple of minutes of careful maneuvering, the new tower was successfully lowered on to the rocks and bolted into place while the ocean spray generated by the helicopter swirled.

“We placed this tower here today to replace the one washed over by Hurricane Irene,” said Chief Petty Officer Aric Deuel, officer in charge of ANT Chincoteague. “The light is here to properly mark the entrance of the Ocean City Inlet jetty.”

For the helicopter crew, while the delivery of the new Coast Guard beacon at the Inlet was a very real and important mission, it was also practical from a training standpoint. The Jayhawk helicopter has a hoisting capability of 6,000 pounds and the aircraft are used in a variety of ways by the Coast Guard from sea rescues to delivering a pump to a vessel taking on water and all manner of “external load operations.”

Coast Guard air crews must learn how to handle different loads at the end of the helicopter’s hoisting hook, a skill set they routinely train for. However, lowering a 3,500-pound tower onto a rocky jetty presented some unique challenges.

“We practice this mission a couple of times a month and rarely do we get to do an actual mission,” said Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City pilot Lt. Jeremy Denning this week. “We usually use a block or a telephone pole to challenge our crews and try to simulate an actual mission.”

Meanwhile, it is uncertain what became of the original beacon swept away by the storm, but Coast Guard officials said they might have found its location. The lost beacon might have been picked up on sonar and crews are expected to dive on the location when conditions improve.


Arctic Circle Air Aims to Bring Fresh Produce From Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to Guam Starting in March

Guam - A newly formed cargo airline, Arctic Circle Air that aims to revive the CNMI's agriculture industry plans to start transporting local produce from the CNMI to Guam in March. The Saipan Tribune reports that Arctic Circle Air is eyeing two flights a day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, 3 to 4 times a week.

The company is owned by local businessman Anthony Pellegrino. He will be charge 50 cents a pound for incoming and outgoing cargo. That is half the price Cape Air currently charges.

Discounted rates may also be available depending on the cargo load and quantity.

Arctic Circle Air, which will be doing business as Marianas Harvest, will not only be bringing products to and from Guam but will also serve as marketing agent for local farmers by buying their produce and selling it to off-island markets.

Guam, for one, imports over $2 million worth of fruits and vegetables from the U.S. mainland and Korea.


Guam: Governor declares Airport Week - Celebrates 36 Years

Guam - Celebrating 36 years of being an autonomous agency in the government, Governor Eddie Calvo today signed a proclamation declaring January 15-20 as A.B. Won Pat International Airport Week. GIAA executive manager Mary Torres says the week will be full of events and activities recognizing the hard work of airport employees and vendors.

"Civilian aviation began in 1935 on Guam and has transformed itself over the years keeping up to date with the latest needs in tourism, commerce and security. This evolution has grown our island's economy tremendously," she said.

She adds a groundbreaking ceremony will be held next week for the airport's new instrument landing system.

Since 1976, the Guam International Airport Authority (GIAA) has been functioning as an autonomous agency. 36 years later, airport officials have scheduled an entire week of events to celebrate its past growth and for what lies ahead in the near future. The Saturday 5k walk/race will be at the old airport terminal at 5 a.m.. Then on Sunday, the airport will be hosting a paddling competition at Matapang Beach. The public is invited to attend both events. Log on to for more information.