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AOPA, airport backer plot strategy to protect St. Petersburg, Fla., airportAOPA, airport backer plot strategy to protect St. Petersburg, Fla., airport

Click for larger image
Rick Carr (second from left), president of AWPS,
with (l-r) AOPA VP Airports Bill Dunn, AOPA
President Phil Boyer, AOPA Senior VP of
Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula,
ASN Specialist John Collins (partially obscured),
and ASN Manager Mark Lowdermilk. The large
stack in the middle of the table is AOPA's
ongoing file on the Albert Whitted fight.

AOPA President Phil Boyer and senior staff members huddled Wednesday afternoon with Rick Carr, president of the Albert Whitted Preservation Society, to plot strategy for protecting St. Petersburg, Florida's waterfront airport.

Anti-airport agitators are trying to force a referendum onto November's ballot asking residents if the airport should be closed and turned into a park. The FAA has sent a letter to airport supporters, noting that the outcome of any such referendum is irrelevant because the city has accepted federal Airport Improvement Program funds and is obligated to maintain the airport as a public-use airport for another 18 years.

"You already hold a winning hand," Boyer said.

The fight over Albert Whitted has been going on for decades. AOPA has been involved from the beginning. Last year, when St. Petersburg sought to repay its grant and be released from its obligation, AOPA sought an interpretation from the FAA, which responded, "Federal legislation does not specifically provide for the release of a sponsor's obligations upon simple repayment of those grants." In other words, repaying the money does not remove the obligation.

"Our commitment to you," Boyer told Carr, "is that we will handle the national side of your fight, dealing with the FAA and, if necessary, with Congress. And we'll be in St. Petersburg as appropriate to lend our voice to your strong local efforts."

AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn plans to visit St. Petersburg and meet with city officials before the final city council meeting to set the referendum.

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