Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Will pilots take over Braden Airpark?

With Braden Airpark recommended for closure, Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority officials say they'd be willing to turn it over to pilots.

If small-plane pilots are so passionate about keeping Braden Airpark open, maybe they'd be willing to take over its operation.

That's the latest plan floated to save the 80-acre small-plane airfield in Forks Township. But Lehigh Valley International Airport authority officials cautioned — buyer beware. Braden comes with more than $2 million in debt and a list of repairs that may need to be done in the next few years.

Authority officials and pilots met last week, hoping to find an alternative to the authority's recommendation to close the small airport to cut expenses. While they didn't hatch a detailed plan, they came away with mutual hope that one is possible.

"One of the options being discussed is having them assume airport operations," said Charles Everett Jr., executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which owns Braden. "Everything's on the table right now. It was a very positive meeting. We're willing to expend a lot of time and energy to determine if there is a way."

Braden was opened in 1938 by packaged-meat seller Edwin Braden and remained a family-run airport until the airport authority bought it for $2.4 million in 1999. Now, faced with paying the remaining $14 million of a court judgment against the authority for taking a developer's land in the 1990, the authority has been assessing all its assets. The authority board determined earlier this year that Braden, with $160,000 per year in debt payments and more than $2 million in needed capital improvements, was too expensive to keep open.

Everett last month recommended that it be closed, and all of its planes be moved to Lehigh Valley International Airport in Hanover Township, or to Queen City Airport in Allentown. The airport authority owns all three facilities.

But earlier this month the authority agreed to give the Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association 120 days — starting Tuesday — to find a way to keep Braden open. One option is simply to turn it over to the pilots association, or some other private entity with similar plans to keep it operating, said Authority Board chairman Tony Iannelli. Other options included finding a private operator, having Forks Township take it over or having the authority continue to run it.

What intrigued some authority members was having the pilots association take Braden over, whether it be full ownership, or a public-private partnership that relieved the authority of all future expenses. While all of the talks last week were preliminary, it was good news to pilots who only last month were shocked to hear the authority planned to close it.

"I don't think we're singing 'Kumbaya' yet, but it was encouraging," said Michael Rosenfeld, president of the Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association. "I think they are genuinely interested in helping us keep Braden open."

The meeting made it clear that Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority officials are not looking to sell Braden, just get its expenses off their books, said William Berger, authority board member who met with pilots.

That opened the door for any plan the pilots can muster that puts the operations — and expenses — of Braden Airpark in someone else's hands, Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority board member William Berger said.

"Having it remain an airport, but not run by the authority, would be a win-win," Berger said. "I think we all want that."

Read more:

No comments:

Post a Comment