Friday, June 13, 2014

Officials signal alternative to selling Braden Airpark (N43), Queen City Airport (KXLL); pilots cautiously optimistic

The fates of Braden Airpark and Queen City Airport remain up in the air, but the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority is looking for companies to service them.

The authority is requesting proposals from companies that will provide fixed-based operator services. Those typically include the handling of fueling, ground operations and aircraft servicing, Executive Director Charles Everett Jr. said. An ad hoc committee formed in April to study the options for the airports suggested the request to see if there are companies willing to provide such services, Everett said. It's a potential alternative to their sale, he said.

Airport officials expect to see savings from having a fixed-based operator, and one of the reasons for putting out the request is to confirm that expectation, Everett said.

"It may not be the case, so that's why the committee is evaluating that as an option," he said.

Moyer Aviation used to provide the fixed-based operator services for Braden Airpark in Forks Township but stopped in spring 2013, he said. The company was on a month-to-month lease with the authority because its previous lease expired, and its operations relocated to Mount Pocono, Monroe County, Everett said.

Moyer Aviation paid the authority $55,000 a year to operate at Braden Airpark, which allowed the company to generate revenue, Everett said. The authority now provides limited service to Braden Airpark and full service to the Lehigh Valley International and Queen City airports, Everett said.

Forks Township Supervisor Erik Chuss said seeking proposals is a viable option that could save money for the airport authority in the long run. Selling the Braden Airpark, rather than maximizing revenues and minimizing expenses, will cost the authority millions of dollars, he said.

"It makes no sense to do that," Chuss said.

Supervisors decided against purchasing the airport for a nominal fee because of the financial obligations associated with it, he said. There was no asking price, Chuss said. Nonetheless, they recognize the airpark's importance to the Lehigh Valley's transportation infrastructure and the economic benefits to all of Northampton County, he said.

Everett said airport officials' goal now is to see if there are companies interested in serving as the fixed-based operator. Proposals are due by 2 p.m. July 16, according to a legal ad that ran in today's Express-Times. A pre-proposal conference and tour of the airports will be held 10 a.m. June 23 at Braden Airpark and 2 p.m. the same day at Queen City Airport, according to the ad.

The authority received two or three requests for information so far, Everett said.

Pilot Bob Kutzler said Braden Airpark is a mom-and-pop operation where parents and their kids can sit and watch the planes take off and land. A fixed-based operator who makes his livelihood running the small airport is more apt than the authority to do what's necessary to get the business back, he said.
"You need somebody that's enthusiastic about running the airport, that wants to make a go of it, and has the creativity to bring it back to the glory that it was 20 years ago," Kutzler said. 

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