May 9, 2011
By Jill W. Tallman
Beloved yet beleaguered airports such as Pennsylvania’s Queen City Allentown Municipal are threatened by competing interests, and the only way to protect them is to get involved, AOPA President Craig Fuller said May 7.
“We’re very much aligned with you in this fight,” Fuller told a group of pilots at a Rally GA event at the Lehigh Valley airport. Its location has made it a target of developers for years. In 2000, after prodding from AOPA and the Queen City Airport Action Committee, the FAA and the city of Allentown entered in a “settlement agreement” transferring the airport from Allentown to the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority. The move came after a federal investigation revealed that the city was using airport property and revenue for nonaviation purposes, in violation of federal law.
Some members of the 17-member board, including Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, want to sell the airport, but if that were to occur, the authority would have to pay back millions of dollars in federal grant money. There also has been talk of moving Queen City, but the FAA will not allow a grant-obligated airport to be closed and relocated until a suitable replacement is complete and operational, according to Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airport advocacy. Allentown failed to identify an acceptable site.
Fuller noted that many people criticize the current political environment for not being responsive to free enterprise, but added, “Actually it’s a very competitive situation. What we compete for is a share of resources. The same is true in Allentown. You’re competing with other interests. They see a better use for this land.” Unless pilots raise their voices and get out to vote, “people who have a different interest will prevail,” he said.
The Queen City Airport Action Committee, led by Clarissa Macintosh, and AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Rae Klahr are working hard to protect Queen City, Fuller said. “Standing up to these pressures when there’s not a big long parade behind you takes some courage,” Fuller said.
Queen City’s daylong slate of activities included an FAA safety seminar and a spot landing contest, which was won by a 14-year-old student pilot, Jacob Barson of Allentown.
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