'Closed for business'? St. Clair eyes airport closure

October 6, 2010

Efforts by St. Clair, Mo., to renege on its obligation to maintain St. Clair Regional Airport will run up against AOPA, the FAA, and the law, AOPA told the city Sept. 28.

St. Clair received federal grant money to develop the airport and is bound to maintain it for 20 years from the last grant, but Mayor Ron Blum has been looking into options for closing the airport since he took office. In recent weeks, the city enlisted the help of a consultant to try to convince the FAA and the state, which administers airport grants, to release the airport from its legal obligations. AOPA Vice President of Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn told Blum that AOPA is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“Attempting to change the rules of a contract with the FAA and State post-agreement simply isn’t acceptable,” Dunn wrote. He added that AOPA intends to ensure the FAA does everything in its power to enforce federal grant assurances and the law—and that the FAA has never approved a request for airport closure and release of grant assurances from the sponsor of an airport such as St. Clair.

AOPA first urged the city to keep the airport open after Blum asked for a study of the cost of closing it in 2008, and the association has continued to voice opposition to the proposed closure. “The city entered into a contract with the FAA and the state, and we expect them to honor the commitment,” Dunn said.

The city has allowed its transportation asset to fall into disrepair despite federal investments, and now the state of Missouri is looking into concerns that the city may be diverting airport revenue for nonaviation purposes. Dunn saw the neglected facilities and lack of maintenance when he visited the airport in 2009, and he said in the letter that St. Clair’s treatment of its airport defies its motto, “We're open for business!”

“It is our experience that many businesses make a conscious decision to locate facilities immediately adjacent to a public-use airport,” he wrote. “In the not too distant past, St. Clair Regional Airport was a thriving hub of business activity and revenue generation. With proper marketing, the airport could and should play an important and integral role in expanding business and tax revenues for the city.”