Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pilots complain about hangar use but Alexandria Municipal Airport (KAXN) manager sides with Cunninghams

Kevin Cunningham and Connie Lee Stich-Cunningham appeared at a January 11 meeting of the Alexandria Municipal Airport Commission to try to retain the hangar they lease for two airplanes. Several pilots have objected, saying the Cunninghams violated their lease after transferring title of the airplanes to a relative. 


Several pilots who park their airplanes at the Alexandria Municipal Airport say they are unhappy that an Alexandria couple has kept their hangar despite violating the terms of their lease.

On Sept. 6, Kevin Cunningham and Connie Lee Stich-Cunningham transferred title of their two airplanes to Stich-Cunningham's brother in Battle Lake. The airplanes remained parked at the Alexandria hangar despite the lease agreement saying leases will terminate if renters don't store their own airplanes in the hangars.

The pilots say the hangar should have gone to an airplane owner on a waiting list for a hangar instead of remaining with the Cunninghams.

"Is it fair to the people on the waiting list that the city is not following the lease agreement?" asked Randy Goeke, a pilot who also leases a hangar at the airport. He spoke after a Thursday, Jan. 11 airport commission meeting that addressed the issue. "If you're a pilot around here, if you can finally get a hangar, it's pretty golden."

The waiting list includes 18 names, and airplane owners sometimes wait up to two years for a hangar to open up. The closest alternative is in Glenwood. Alexandria's airport offers 44 hangars, and the rent ranges from $93 to $173 per month for unheated units and from $250 to $600 a month for heated units.

Underlying the dispute is the Cunninghams' bankruptcy. Filed on Oct. 13, bankruptcy records indicate that in the previous month, the couple had transferred ownership of two airplanes—a Cessna 150 and a hand-built Pitts aircraft—as well as a 1988 Porsche and a boat to Stich-Cunningham's brother, Ben Stich, in exchange for $25,000 for their struggling restaurant business. That restaurant, Tennessee Roadhouse, closed last fall, leaving employees unpaid, a string of creditors, and debt of more than $3 million.

In December, airport manager Todd Roth discovered the ownership transfer during a routine report to the state. After airplanes are sold, those renting hangars have 60 days to replace them with aircraft they own, or lose the hangar. The Cunninghams had exceed that by nearly a month by the time Roth found out. Roth gave the Cunninghams until Jan. 31 to vacate the hangar. However, Cunningham met with the airport commission at its Dec. 14 meeting and explained he didn't realize the aircraft transfer would affect his hangar lease, according to meeting minutes. He asked for additional time so he could transfer the aircraft back into his name.

"Kevin Cunningham reminded the Airport Commission that he has been a 25 year, long term tenant at the airport and would like to keep his hangar as it was his intent to keep the aircraft," the minutes said.

At that time, the commissioners agreed to allow the Cunninghams to retain their hangar space. The minutes indicate commissioners voted on it; however those at a Jan. 11 airport meeting said no vote had taken place on Dec. 14.

Two pilots, Ken Ryan and James Conn, sent letters to the commission objecting to the decision allowing the Cunninghams to retain their hangar space.

In his Dec. 30 letter, Conn compared the airport commission's decision to a 2016 incident when Douglas County commissioners granted Cunningham a delay in paying back property taxes, "which was rescinded when the public spoke up."

"Mr. Cunningham has and continues to be in clear violation of the lease agreement while your airport manager maintains a list of airplane owners and pilots for whom you have no hangars to lease," Conn wrote.

Ryan wrote on Dec. 27 that the commission should have to explain its decision to allow the Cunninghams to keep their hangar. In addition to not owning the airplanes in the hangar, the couple also violated the lease by storing restaurant equipment in a space that was supposed to contain only airplane-related items, he wrote. The storage rule prevents the airport from competing with private storage businesses.

"Barring such justification I respectfully request that his lease be terminated for cause," Ryan wrote.

However, Roth, the outgoing airport manager, defended the Cunninghams during a Jan. 11 meeting to discuss the issue. Cunningham is once again listed as an owner of the airplanes, he said, and as a long-time renter, deserves some leeway.

"In my eyes, Kevin Cunningham is complying," he said.

Cunningham also spoke up, calling the lapse an "oversight" that he has since corrected.

"It wasn't intentional," he said, adding that he wasn't sure why he was facing such criticism. "There's something fishy going on here. I don't understand what's going on."

At that meeting, commissioners postponed making a final decision on the Cunningham's lease until its next meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8.

After the Jan. 11 meeting, the Cunninghams' attorney, Logan Moore, said the Cunninghams had regained "fractional" ownership of the airplanes.

Reached by the Echo Press, one airplane owner near the top of the waiting list said he was "disappointed" in how the airport commission handled the matter.

That owner, Paul Anderson, bought a Grumman Trainer from Goeke that he still keeps in Goeke's hangar.

"I'm just going to have to wait a little longer for a hangar," he said. "It is what it is."

Story and photo ➤ http://www.echopress.com

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