With opening day for a new Utah airport—and the closing of the one it will replace—only weeks away, AOPA is calling for a “meeting of the minds” to quickly iron out differences between city officials and general aviation pilots over the impact of the changeover.
To date a continuing dialog between pilots and officials in St. George, Utah, has done little to relieve concerns of airport tenants about possible dislocation when St. George Municipal Airport closes. The terms of hangar leases and unique construction challenges at the new airport are also in dispute.
AOPA is urging city officials to commit to a policy of leaving no tenants of St. George Municipal displaced when the new airport opens early in 2011. Similar past situations have demonstrated that, assurances aside, GA users’ interests suffer when an airport’s opening runs into delays or other difficulties. In St. George, pilots say that private hangar construction on land leased from the city cannot be completed by the scheduled airport opening in early 2011. AOPA reported on the difficult negotiations between St. George and its GA pilots in this Oct. 12 article.
In a Nov. 30 letter to St. George Public Work Director Jerry H. Bulloch, AOPA Vice President for Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn suggested a meeting between AOPA, city officials, the FAA, and airport tenants to work out a solution. In the letter, Dunn asked the city to provide the association with the number of leases signed and what percentage of existing tenants would be accommodated at the new airport on opening day.
Dunn explained the notorious case of an airport replacement project in Panama City, Fla., that left some tenants displaced for five months—despite years of advance written promises that no such problems would occur. “With this in mind, I am certain that you can understand the association’s concerns regarding the condition and availability of GA facilities at the new airport, as well as the terms on which they are being offered,” he wrote.
One positive step would be if St. George offered hangar-lease terms better than those reviewed by AOPA legal counsel, who found them to be among “the most onerous and restrictive they have ever encountered at similar airports,” he said.
Dunn added that he hoped that the city would regard the association’s comments not as adversarial, but as the contributions of an advocate for the local GA community. Those pilots account for 90 percent of the use of the existing airport, which also serves airlines.
Dunn urged officials to “redouble” their efforts to achieve an equitable transition. If the city believes that a conference between all involved parties would be productive, AOPA stands ready to attend such a meeting in St. George, Dunn wrote. He also advised the city that the existing airport should not be decommissioned until such time as all tenants who wish to locate to the new airport are accommodated.