Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Federal Aviation Administration making demands on Warren County, Ohio


The Federal Aviation Administration has attached strings to funding for a new $3.4 million taxiway at the Warren County Airport.

Airport authority officials met with the Warren County commissioners Tuesday to discuss plans for further expansion at the airport and FAA demands. The FAA is apparently uncomfortable with the county’s arrangement with Bob Henderson, who owns and operates the airport. The county owns the runway and land to the east of the runway.

Bill Simmons, retiring president of the Warren County Port Authority, says the FAA would essentially like the county to force Henderson to sell his portion of the airport to the county. He said the feds don’t like public improvements that benefit private businesses.

“The FAA would prefer us to own the whole thing, to basically confiscate the property,” he said.

Simmons said they are in the process of drafting an “Operations Alternatives Study” for the FAA that outlines why the current setup with Henderson is preferable. If the FAA allows the status quo to continue, Simmons said the county will undoubtedly have to renegotiate the contract with Henderson.

“We will probably be forced by the FAA to negotiate a more cumbersome contract with the Warren County Airport that will define the cost of services provided to the county in return for a defined value to the Warren County Airport of their access to the government owned airport,” he wrote in a report to the commissioners. “The FAA’s primary issue is private commercial access to publicly funded facilities and potential anti-competitive practices.”

Henderson has recently spent $2.3 million expanding his side of the runway. The airport authority pays Henderson $27,600 a year to run the airport. The county — which is required by state law to operate a county airport — has spent $764,892 purchasing properties and easements so that trees can be downed and a pond filled in, to meet FAA requirements and extend the usable length of the runway.

The FAA wants the county to construct the taxiway on the east side of the runway and bring new development on the county-owned land. The county would have to abandon the dilapidated taxiway on the west side, which would be problematic for the planes housed on Henderson’s land, according to Simmons.

Commissioner Dave Young said he has no problem with developing the east side and he has been approached by developers. He said while the county is very satisfied with the arrangement with Henderson, if the airport operation on the other side of the runway were ever sold, they might be stuck with someone who won’t be as cooperative and it’s a good thing to keep their options open.

“I don’t think philosophically we’re too far off (with the FAA),” he said. “It’s almost the chicken or the egg, they are saying go ahead and build all this and then they’ll come. We’re saying we don’t want to build it until we have to and then run it, but we are willing to do that.”

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