April 23, 2014
By Dan Namowitz
A Pennsylvania airpark with an uncertain future will have six more months for its supporters to sell officials on a plan for its continued operation.
The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority on April 22 voted 10-3 against a motion to close Braden Airpark in Forks Township, said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airport advocacy. Instead, the board will create an ad-hoc committee to work with airport supporters on a preservation plan.
A local news report called the vote a "major victory" for the pilots, who were facing a recommendation from the airport authority’s executive director to set an Oct. 19 closure date for the field. The airport authority, which runs the Lehigh Valley International Airport, is under a court judgment to pay $26 million after losing a case resulting from its having taken land from a developer. It has seen selling Braden Airpark, which has been appraised at about $3 million, as a way to raise money to help satisfy the judgment.
Over the past year a pilots’ group has attempted to purchase the airpark, which opened in 1938, is the base of about 33 aircraft, and is estimated to generate $8 million in annual economic activity. But there remains more than a million-dollar gap between their offer and the reduced sales price offered by officials.
AOPA has been actively supporting the local pilots in their efforts to keep Braden Airpark open. On April 21, AOPA noted the continued widespread support for the airport in a letter to Airport Authority Chairman Marc Troutman.
"It is our view that closing Braden and selling the property will do little to aid in paying down the debt of the court ordered judgment against LNAA since the Authority will be in the unenviable position of being required to repay existing Commonwealth airport development funds," Dunn wrote April 21. He urged that additional time be made available for a decision.
Although the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority was voting on a recommendation to close the airport when it gave its backers six more months to find a way to break the deadlock, Troutman said in a local news report that officials would be satisfied to keep the airport open if it were self-supporting.
The local pilots, however, have responded to that assertion by noting that the airport authority’s policies, which caused its fixed-base operator to move away, make the facility’s business conditions unnecessarily difficult.
Dunn, in his letter, outlined various possible solutions that deserve further study, including acquisition by the pilots, by the county, Forks Township, "or some combination of parties."
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
Getting the job done on the local and national levels requires long-term planning, a hands-on approach, and keeping the effort moving, said Sean Collins, AOPA’s Eastern regional manager.
When it comes to celebrating aviation, the folks in Watsonville, California, don’t take a back seat to anyone.
The Voters Decide campaign is making a pre-election push for a ballot measure to put the future of SMO into the hands of voters.
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