Thursday, June 25, 2015

Federal Aviation Administration complaint may cost Peter Prince Field Airport (2R4), Milton, Florida

The Federal Aviation Administration has determined Santa Rosa County practiced economic discrimination between the two fixed-base operators at the county-owned Peter Prince Field in Milton, requiring the county to develop a corrective action plan in order to maintain eligibility for federal grant funding.

The conclusion was the result of a formal complaint filed by Aircraft Management Services against the county in 2012 alleging "more favorable" lease terms were given to Peter Prince Aviation Center — formerly Milton Aviation Partners, — a violation of grant obligations at the airport, according to FAA.

After review of AMS's claims, the county's responses and its request to dismiss the complaint, FAA decided that the county agreed to "unjustly discriminatory terms and conditions" in PPAC's lease.

But officials at Peter Prince Aviation Center disagree with FAA's findings, claiming any economic discrimination has been against their company, not AMS, and they are making plans to file a formal complaint of their own with FAA if a fair agreement cannot be reached.

Among the differences in AMS and PPAC's leases is the cost per square foot for office space and maintenance/supply space, both of which are higher for the complainant. AMS pays the county $1 per square foot for office space, compared with 50 cents for PPAC — however, Peter Prince Aviation asserts that it pays for a bigger portion of its buildings than AMS.

Other discrepancies include flowage fees, which are paid by AMS to the county per gallon of fuel sold, and required hours of operation for the companies, which vary between the two leases.

Santa Rosa County is obligated to comply with grant assurances, including economic nondiscrimination, according to the FAA. Peter Prince Field has been funded in part by grants from FAA's Airport Improvement Program, receiving about $3.4 million in AIP grants since 1990, according to County Engineer Roger Blaylock.

If those grants were lost, the impact to the airfield would be "immeasurable," Blaylock said, but would include an estimated $2 million to $3 million for an upcoming runway rehabilitation project, of which FAA would pay about 90 percent. The county is also eligible for another $150,000 annually for qualified projects, including safety improvements.

"It's huge, huge money," Blaylock said. "And if we had to fund that out of the airport, that's going to be a financial burden."

The corrective action plan is due to the Orlando Airports District Office by June 26, but County Attorney Roy Andrews said a 60-day extension has been requested to resolve the issues.

"The direction from the FAA is to make sure both fixed-base operators out there are treated equally and there's no type of economic discrimination with either one of them," Andrews said. "We don't think we did, but we are looking at the terms of the leases to make sure we bring all the provisions in line so they are essentially equal."

Blaylock, who manages the airfield, said the plan will address FAA's findings from AMS's complaints.

"We are in discussion with both MAP and AMS as it relates to a possible modified lease," Blaylock said.

AMS was the first fixed-base operation at the field, approved by the county commission in 2001, joined in 2011 by MAP, later renamed PPAC.

In a response to the FAA, Santa Rosa County contested that the two FBOs are "differently situated," and therefore not subject to being treated in a uniform manner.

The FAA determined the argument to be "without merit," stating the services provided by the two FBOs are similar in type and level of service. Both operations run flight schools for military members and civilians, also offering fuel services and runway access to pilots.

"In this case, the two FBOs were, without adequate justification, not subject to the same lease rates, fees (flowage fee), rentals, and other requirements such as difference in the required leasehold square footage, and operating hours/schedule," FAA concluded.

But partners at PPAC claim FAA isn't getting the full picture by looking solely at what's shown on the leases. Although PPAC does not pay flowage fees to the county on fuel sold, AMS uses a county fuel farm, while PPAC constructed its own, according to the county.

"We have been made to look like we have gotten some kind of sweet deal from the county, when in fact, that's not true," said Bruce Young, a partner at PPAC.

Original article can be found here:

Chicago O'Hare International Airport (KORD) leads country in flights, also delays, new aviation commissioner admits

Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans talks with reporters about O'Hare Airport Wednesday, June 24, 2015.

O’Hare International Airport not only leads the country in total flights but also in delays, the city’s new aviation commissioner bluntly conceded to a gathering Thursday at the City Club of Chicago.

The “flip side” of O’Hare reclaiming the “busiest airport” title for total 2014 operations from Atlanta is that “Chicago also leads the way in delayed flights,’’ Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said.

“This is where it’s important to remember we’re in a consumer business, and consumers have choices,” said Evans, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pick to replace Rosemarie Andolino as of June 1.

However, Evans noted at the beginning of her address, “I like to tackle big gnarly challenges.” And, she added toward the end, “I work every Sunday.”

Evans’ comments come after O’Hare repeatedly has sat near the bottom of the nation’s 29 major airports in on-time performance despite an $8.7 billion O’Hare modernization program that promised to reduce delays in all kinds of weather, based on a new east-to-west traffic flow.

Emanuel on Thursday introduced Evans to the City Club breakfast crowd by saying her task was to make O’Hare “the best airport in America.”

Evans suggested reviewing the entire basis of the 2001 modernization plan that Emanuel inherited from predecessor Richard M. Daley, especially in light of developments since then.

That includes the 2007 emergence of the Airbus 380, something Evans called “one of the most significant developments in aviation over the past decade.” The world’s largest commercial aircraft boasts a double-deck interior, high seat capacity and lower cost-per-mile seats, making it ideal for very long flights that let travelers avoid multiple stops, Evans said.

Yet, Evans said, O’Hare does not have any A380 gates, although it’s planning one. Other airports are on their “second or third round” of adding them, she said.

Evans called for more O’Hare gates and airfield improvements to reduce delays and maximize performance. She said she is looking at “eight different solutions” on reducing jet noise complaints and reading every previous study on bringing an express train to O’Hare.

Evans comes to her aviation post amid O’Hare’s ongoing shift from heavy use of diagonal runways that send traffic over the northern and southern suburbs, to large reliance on parallel runways that bring in flights from the east and send them out to the west.

The new flight paths first hit in October 2013, when most arrivals started flying over the city to enter O’Hare and departing the airport over Wood Dale and Bensenville. Jet noise complaints have skyrocketed to record levels ever since.

In her remarks to the City Club, Evans seemed to rule out keeping two diagonal runways that the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition and others contend should be used to spread out air traffic more evenly. She clearly backed adding a sixth parallel runway that has yet to be financed.

A diagonal runway originally due for decommissioning intersects with another diagonal runway and a parallel runway to form a triangle on the airfield.

“First and foremost, O’Hare’s triangular runway pattern — with runways in three directions — has to go,” Evans told the City Club. “It is inefficient, outdated and, frankly, not as safe a configuration. . . . These new parallel runways are essential for maximizing safety at our busy airports.”

However, asked after her address if she favored decommissioning two diagonal runways that a new bill would allow to stay open, Evans was measured.

“We’re evaluating some aspects of closing those runways through the summer,” Evans said. “We’ll take a position on that in late summer or early fall.”

Original article can be found here:

City of Phoenix Releases Report From Investigation Regarding Federal Aviation Administration Flight Path Changes

Flight departures to the west of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport prior to September 18th. (Blue indicates new flight path.)
(Photo courtesy of City of Phoenix) 

Four aviation department employees have been disciplined after an investigation found they knew about the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to change the flight paths at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The investigation was prompted by a rumor that a lower level employee was involved in the design and implementation of the flight paths, but didn’t tell his boss.

The report reads that statements made by an FAA official about aviation department employee, James Davies, generated the "instant" investigation.

The official alleged that Davies helped design the flight paths and, on behalf of Sky Harbor, approved them.

Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher said the FAA deliberately reached out to a lower level employee within the organization, and did not contact any senior aviation employees.

"Our highest level directors talked regularly with the FAA officials," said Zuercher. "That was what was so puzzling about it. This was going on, and they never brought this up to our folks. That’s the problem here."

Zuercher also said four employees have been disciplined, including former acting aviation director Tamie Fischer, who was reassigned to her previous position of assistant aviation director.

"And she has a one week suspension without pay," he added. "Three other employees in the organization have a variety of things from a reprimand to suspension, and one has a demotion."

Zuercher said Deputy City Manager Paul Blue will serve as the aviation director starting Monday.

Earlier this month, Phoenix filed a lawsuit against the FAA over the changes.

Original article can be found here:

Flight arrivals to the west of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport prior to September 18th. (Blue indicates new flight path.)
 (Photo courtesy of City of Phoenix)

Moline schools tell appellate judges Elliott Aviation tax break is unconstitutional

OTTAWA, Illinois -- A panel of Third District Illinois Appellate Court Justices will decide if a tax break granted by law to benefit Elliott Aviation is constitutional.

Attorneys for the Moline School District, Elliott Aviation and the state made oral arguments Wednesday before the panel in Ottawa. 

Justice Robert Carter said the court will take the matter under advisement and issue an opinion sometime in the future. The panel also included Justice Vicki Wright and Justice William Holdridge.

The case was filed by the school district in March 2012, about a month after former Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law exempting any fixed base operator (FBO) at the Quad City International Airport from paying property taxes.

Elliott Aviation -- the only FBO at the airport -- asked legislators to consider the exemption, saying the company could move an expansion it planned in Moline to its facility in Des Moines, where it would not have to pay property taxes.

The school district filed the lawsuit against the state, county and township officials. It contended the exemption violated provisions of the Illinois Constitution and would deprive it of $150,000 in annual in property taxes.

In May 2013, the Rock Island Circuit Court issued an injunction forbidding local and state taxing authorities from granting the tax break until the lawsuit was resolved.

In August, Elliott Aviation asked to intervene in the lawsuit. The company and the school district requested a summary judgment, and in December 2013, Circuit Court Judge Frank Fuhr ruled the tax break was constitutional and dissolved the injunction.

The school district asked the court to reconsider. In December 2014, Judge Fuhr ruled against reconsideration and the school district filed the appeal.

During the hearing Wednesday, school district attorney Floyd Perkins said the tax break violates the constitution because it is a special exemption, narrowly granted to FBOs at the Moline airport, instead of FBOs across the state.

He said there are plenty of FBOs in Illinois, as well as businesses in Moline and Rock Island County, that would like to pay less in property taxes and could say they would use that savings to expand their businesses and add jobs. However, the law signed by the former Gov. Quinn is too narrow and restrictive to allow any company to do that, he said.

State law also requires uniformity in taxation, and Mr. Perkins said the exemption is a blatant lack of uniformity. Tax code requires for-profit businesses to pay property taxes on any land they are leasing from a government body. Elliott Aviation is not required to pay property taxes, but all of the other businesses that are leasing land from the airport are required to do so.

Elliott Aviation attorney Jason O'Rourke said Judge Fuhr found the company is uniquely situated.

Mr. O'Rourke said the school district provided no evidence of another FBO in Illinois that was considering a large expansion and had a facility in a neighboring state where they could move the expansion and be exempt from paying property taxes. 

Justice Wright said it seemed a "little bullish" of Elliott Aviation to threaten to move its expansion, and the law includes no language requiring or obligating the company to follow through with its expansion.

Mr. O'Rourke said Elliott Aviation did not threaten, but rather there was a real threat facing the community that it could happen. Mr. O'Rourke said information about company's economic impact on the county was provided to the court. 

He said economic benefit meets the "rational basis" test on which special legislation can be created, and it was done to bring additional jobs to the county and state.  

Assistant Attorney General Evan Siegel said the school district did not meet the burden of proof for a constitutional challenge. The airport is a unit of government and Elliott Aviation should be viewed as an arm of that government, because the company is providing the same functions as the airport, but to general aviation customers instead of the public. 

Original article can be found here: