June 5, 2013
By Benét J. Wilson
Pennsylvania’s Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority (LNAA) executive director has formally recommended closing Forks Township’s Braden Airpark after saying it cannot afford to pay a multimillion dollar court judgment and is seeking the sale of assets to raise funds. The airport authority also claims it cannot afford to pay for improvements needed to keep the facility open. But AOPA and the Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association say the move would hurt GA pilots, businesses, and organizations based at the airport.
At Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority's last board meeting in December 2012, no discussions were held on Moyer Aviation’s lease, nor were plans covered on the airpark’s future. Moyer Aviation was the airpark’s long-standing fixed-base operator, flight school, and contract airport manager.
But earlier this year, either the airport authority Director Charles Everett or a subcommittee made the decision not to renew its lease with Moyer Aviation, with no consultation of its full board. Instead, it offered the FBO a month-to-month lease. The operation refused and moved to Pocono Mountains Municipal Airport in May.
AOPA was surprised by the recent and abrupt recommendation made by Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority staff suggesting the closure and sale of Braden Airpark. “While there have been rumors circulating about this possibility, nothing definitive had actually been put forth nor had any of the stakeholders with interest in this important issue been consulted for input,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports, in a June 3 letter to Erik Chuss, chairman of Forks Township. “That in and of itself is disappointing, since this decision will have far-reaching impacts including a significant economic impact on Forks Township.”
Braden Airpark was founded in 1937 by Ed Braden; his son took over in 1990. At one time, it was home to the largest Piper Aircraft Dealer in the United States, and it trained military pilots during World War II. Moyer Aviation assumed operations in 1995 with 25 employees. It was bought by the airport authority in 2000 for $2.4 million. The airpark is home to 59 based aircraft, 54 of which are single-engine aircraft. It brings direct and indirect economic benefit of approximately $8 million to Forks Township and the region, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Bureau of Aviation.
In 2000, Forks Township purchased 300 feet of land just south of the airport from Lafayette College and leased approximately half of it to the airport authority in order to allow the official hard-surface/grass runway to meet state minimum requirements. The land is currently zoned recreational, educational, and municipal; any non-conforming use proposed for the site would have to be approved by Forks Township officials.
For more than 10 years, Lehigh-Carbon Community College has offered a successful aviation degree program in partnership with Moyer Aviation at the airpark. It is also home to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Chapter 70, with 50 members. Plans for Braden Airpark have not been communicated to its current tenants, nor has relocation assistance been offered. The only services currently being offered are fuel and tiedown services.
The airport authority's decision may provide an opportunity for Forks Township to acquire the airport from the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority and continue operation of the facility, said Dunn. “AOPA has been directly and actively involved on several occasions when the owner of a general aviation airport was interested in conveying the airport to another public agency in order to have the airport remain operational as a public-use airport,” he said.
If Forks Township was interested in pursuing an acquisition, AOPA, the Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association, and the local aviation community would be more than willing to help in the effort, said Dunn. “Our close working relationships with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Commonwealth could assist the Township in that regard,” he said. “While we are aware that LNAA board members have delayed taking a formal vote on this matter, we believe it would be an excellent time for the Township to consider the acquisition of Braden Airpark as a viable option.”
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