Saturday, May 04, 2013

Air ambulance company disputes Richmond County tax bill

An air ambulance company whose plane was seized last week for unpaid taxes is protesting the tax bill and wants a refund.

Med-Trans, the Texas-based company that acquired Augusta’s AirMed air ambulance service in October, paid $98,500 in property taxes Friday to the Richmond County Tax Com­missioner’s Office.

The payment was sent a day after tax officials seized a Beechcraft B200 plane at Augusta Regional Airport to secure the unpaid debt.

“That was the first time Med-Trans knew about the tax issue and when we were given a copy of the Tax Notice,” according to Reid Vogel, a spokesman for Med-Trans, who responded by e-mail.

Vogel said the taxes are owed by AirMed, and the plane that was seized, identified by tail number N771MG, belongs to Med-Trans “sister company,” EagleMed LLC.

“Med-Trans and EagleMed told the Richmond County Tax Commissioner’s office that N771MG was not owned by AirMed Inc. and that it is an emergency response aircraft serving the general public, but it did not matter to them,” Vogel wrote.

Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said it was his position that Med-Trans acquired the company and its equipment, and it is now responsible for the tax debt.

The dispute over the tax bill dates to early 2012, when AirMed was sent an assessment notice by the Richmond County Tax Assessors Office for four aircraft operated by the company and hangared in Augusta.

Chief Assessor Alveno Ross said AirMed failed to file a return for business personal property tax on its equipment, so one was created for the company by his office. Ross said that even after the assessment notice was sent out, AirMed did not file an appeal.

On March 22, 2012, AirMed President Dan Gates sent a letter arguing that under Georgia law, AirMed was a commercial airline and thus exempt from local property taxes.

Ross said the exemption cited by Gates doesn’t apply; if it did, AirMed would be assessed as a public utility and subject to state taxes. He said the company has not offered any documentation to indicate that was the case.

Gates said the situation was a first for him.

“We’ve never been taxed in 12 or 13 years of business,” he said.

Gates said that even if AirMed owed some taxes last year, he doesn’t agree with the amount. He said of the four aircraft – two helicopters and two planes – AirMed actually owned only one, a 1979 Beechcraft F90.

Gates said the two helicopters were leased from another company, BMK LP, and the Beechcraft B200 was owned by another of his companies, Coastal Air Inc.

Since the sale to Med-Trans, the helicopters have returned to BMK and the two planes were sold to EagleMed, a subsidiary of Air Medical Group Holdings, which also owns Med-Trans,

EagleMed sold the Beechcraft F90 in October to a North Carolina company, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Read more here:

Council Puts Medical Helicopter in Limbo

Plans to station an air-ambulance helicopter in Oceanside have hit a snag.

The City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday to send the proposed lease of property to REACH Air Medical Services of Santa Rosa back to the city manager for re-negotiation.

Fire Chief Darryl Hebert was a strong proponent of the plan to lease part of the Fire Training Center at 110 Jones Road to REACH for a heliport, saying it could reduce evacuation time for critically ill or injured patients.

One proponent said it would cut the time in half, from 12-14 minutes to six-eight minutes.

Currently, critical patients are flown from McClellan Palomar Airport in Carlsbad by Mercy Air Service of San Diego to the nearest trauma hospital, usually Scripps Memorial in La Jolla.

Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside is not an authorized trauma reception unit.

Hebert said Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, which is designated to receive trauma patients, is closer but serves such a large area already that Oceanside patients are to be sent to La Jolla.

Non-critical patients—an average of 39 a day, are taken by Fire Department ambulance to Tri-City.

Councilman Jerry Kern, one of the majority voting against the proposal, said the 269 patients flown last year are less than 1.5 percent of the total of nearly 18,000 patients transported by Fire Department paramedics every year.

He asked if there had been complaints about Mercy Air.

There have been a couple that he knows of, Hebert replied, but he did not have exact data about complaints.

Larry Hall, representing Mercy, said it should have been allowed to present a proposal of its own.

Ken Crossman, chairman of the city's Police and Fire Commission, an advisory body, said it had voted unanimously in favor of the REACH plan.

Larry Barry, speaking in opposition to the proposal, said REACH should pay to use the city's nearby airport and operate privately without city firefighters on board, as outlined in the proposal.

“It's not going to cost the city anything,” proponent Joan Brubaker said.

The council majority's main objection was to the proposed use of Fire Department personnel on the air ambulances.  It didn't mind the private-enterprise lease of city property for its own operations.

Councilman Gary Felien said, the city faces huge debt from employee retirement. “There's going to be a pension crisis,” he said.

Hebert insisted on wanting control of the operation by having his own employees on board and said he could do it with current personnel, not increasing retirement costs. “There is no fiscal impact to the City of Oceanside,” Hebert said.

Read more here:

Federal Aviation Administration keeps airport gear running: Lee Gilmer Memorial (KGVL), Gainesville, Georgia

Who is responsible for the maintenance at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport?

A new guidance system was installed onto a wooden structure a number of years ago. This structure is visible from Queen City Parkway and has never been primed or painted to protect the wood from the elements. The wood now appears weathered, cracked and split.

The structure was installed in 1999, according to Terry Palmer, airport manager at Lee Gilmer, and is maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It is made out of treated lumber, so it’s not necessarily something that will have to be restained or anything,” Palmer said.

The structure supports a localizer antennae, which basically provides an electronic center line 5 miles south of the airport so that pilots can line up with the runway even during low visibility.

The antennae is monitored 24/7 by the FAA, so if there was some sort of equipment failure, the FAA would know before anyone else since it monitors it, Palmer said. An alert would be sent, which they would then relay to air traffic controllers.

The FAA is responsible for maintenance of that and other antennas and equipment. The city of Gainesville, which owns the airport, is responsible for maintenance of the runways, taxiways, grounds and buildings.


Trenton Mercer (KTTN), New Jersey: Airport ready to take off


Times of Trenton Letter to the Editor - May 2 

Mercer Airport ready to take off 

If the crowded parking lot at the Trenton-Mercer Airport is any indication, the arrival of Frontier Airlines and its many popular destinations are a runaway success.

While Mercer County has certainly been burned, over the years, with a number of marginal carriers coming and going out of West Trenton, the public seems to have finally signaled its desire to avoid flying out of Newark and Philadelphia.

Interestingly, looking at the airlines that have long anchored the larger hubs, Continental is gone, with parent United ranking at the bottom of customer satisfaction lists, and I wouldn’t place a big bet on American Airlines once it deals with the pains of taking over U.S. Airways in Philadelphia. It’s only getting worse at the bigger airports with their megacarriers.

Frontier has had its financial problems, and two investment firms are currently in talks to acquire Frontier from parent Republic Airways Holdings. Whether Frontier is still here in five years is anyone’s guess, but some airline will see the opportunity of flying out of Trenton Mercer, and that is why there shouldn’t be any further delay in getting a new terminal built (“Improvement projects put on hold at Trenton-Mercer Airport,” April 24).

Bringing in a private developer is an option. (A Dutch firm manages the new Delta Terminal 4 at JFK.) The recently reported $450,000 loan by Frontier to the county for airport improvements is a temporary fix, at best. Now is the time for bold leadership by Mercer County officials.

-- Gary Smotrich,
Hopewell Township


The skinny on the rumor: Meadow Lake Airport (KFLY), Colorado Springs, Colorado

In the April 6 issue of The New Falcon Herald, the rumor column noted that a new 6,000-square-foot hangar was being built at the Meadow Lake Airport – but not on the airport property. Mark Shook, Meadow Lake Airport Association Board of Directors vice president, has clarified the rumor, which turned out to be true.

The hangar is on Shook’s property. The hangar will store two large aircrafts and three rotor crafts and measure 4,200 square feet; the buildable area on the lot is 6,000 square feet, he said.

Dave Elliott, MLAA president, said there has been confusion surrounding the constitution of the airport and its property. The majority of the hangars considered part of the airport are actually located on private property to the east of the main runway, known as the Airport Hangar subdivision, Elliott said.

“The original idea behind the airport was that it was going to be private and to keep it private with no government interference,” he said.

The first airport runway was graded out in 1965 and was 4,000 feet long and about 30 feet wide, which is narrow for a runway, Shook said. It was paved in 1970.

“In 1989, the Federal Aviation Association granted it General Aviation Retriever Status, meaning the airport was available for everybody to use without charge at that time, kind of like a highway in front of your business,” Shook said. “It’s a public use of the transportation system. There is tax on the sale of gasoline and the dues from the property owners of the MLAA, which is how the public portion of the airport is funded.”

All of the runways, taxiways and aeronautical surfaces are owned by the airport association, Shook said. People who pay dues to the association have voting rights to elect the board that manages the nonprofit MLAA, Shook said. “It’s a public use airport that is privately owned by a nonprofit airport association,” he said.

“The private property side of the airport is supported by private money,” Shook said. “The public side is supported by user fees like fuel tax, which funds the Colorado Discretionary Aviation Grants.”