About 30 pilots were present at the meeting between the airport governing body and loosely formed Cleveland Airport Owners and Pilots Association to engage in constructive dialogue.
Veteran pilot and Chat-tanooga attorney Tad Wintermeyer spoke on behalf of the pilots who linked lease agreements to the success of Cleveland Regional Jetport.
He said an airport can have every possible amenity including fire trucks and fully-manned control towers, but amenities do not necessarily make for a busy airport.
“If you build the new runway, the fancy facility, the new FBO, the shiny new fuel trucks, will the demand naturally follow?” he asked. “If you build a fancy terminal and hire a marketing director, will that in and of itself cause self-propagating, organic sustainable growth?”
Wintermeyer identified the association of owners and pilots as a group of residents concerned about maximizing the potential of the new facility.
“We’re concerned about the taxpayer dollars at issue and we just want to have a win-win dialogue,” he said. “We’re not here to fight each other, to bicker. We want to come together to have a synergistic approach.”
He said one goal is to promote self-sustaining growth by looking at existing pilots in the community.
“That’s probably the most valuable untapped resource that we have,” he said.
He questioned how to avoid the jetport pitfall. The airport authority has tentatively named the new facility the Cleveland Regional Jetport. The name was chosen by the airport authority to plainly differentiate between the outdated Hardwick Field with its short runway and the new airport and its 5,500-foot runway that lies adjacent to Michigan Avenue Road.
“Does the jetport bring the jets?” he asked. “Does naming it a jetport bring the aviation to you?”
He said there is a three-pronged message that needs to be stated to sell the new airport which is vital to economic growth. Secondly, a vibrant and active pilot community is needed because each pilot is a salesperson for the new airport.
“Combining those first two factors together creates a valuable resource,” he said. “It is, as madam chairwoman said, the largest asset the city owns and we need to protect that.”
Earlier in the meeting, CMAA Chair Lynn DeVault said the airport cost will be about $37.78 million at the time it opens in the latter part of the year and will cost $42.68 million by the time it is completely built with hangars. At opening, the federal participation will equal $19 million, the state’s share is estimated at $11.73 million. The city and private share will be $6.01 million.
“It is the largest asset of the city and ranks in the top 10 in county investments including the recent industrial expansions,” she said.
The group is requesting reasonable and fair minimum standards reflecting demographics at the new airport and uniformity in all lease terms.
“If there are different lease terms as there are with the current airport, it creates some confusion, hard feelings and ultimately, it’s not very productive,” he said. “We want fair lease terms that protect their current interests in their current leases, but also protect a potential future interest in new leases at the new airport.
“And, we want the lease terms to be fair market value.”
He said “fair market value” is subjective depending on whether the new airport is compared to neighboring facilities or comparable airports used by the business planning consultant.
“I would suggest a slightly different metric of how we prepare that to determine what a fair lease would be with the surrounding conditions,” he said. “Ultimately, all of this working together, I think, will minimize any potential litigation risks because of conflicts between the old leases and any of the new potential leases.”
He said Tullahoma adopted policies and standards very accommodating to the general aviation population with what he considered fair lease terms for 20 years with a 20-year option and a reversion clause that takes affect after 40 years. CMAA has proposed the hangars revert to the authority after 20 years.
“They allow for expanded use of the hangars like maintenance,” he said. “Lastly, they have a very reasonable minimum standard.”
Tullahoma’s land lease terms fund airport development at low risk to taxpayers.
“We are fully vested in the success of the airport. I don’t think anybody has any ill-will or desire to see it not happen. We want it to be a success. We further want a smooth transition,” he said.
He said the proposed lease rates are discriminatory. For free-standing hangars of 6,400 square feet or more, the lease rate will be two times the building footprint. For hangars less than 6,400 square feet, which are not free-standing, the annual lease rate will be 1.5 times the building footprint.
DeVault said the rates were intended to discriminate against the larger hangar owners.
“But, if you want a flat lease rate, that’s fine with us. You can have it,” she said at one point.
She said it is important to note there are 85 airplanes owned in Bradley County and only 35 are at Hardwick Field.
“As much as I love you guys, you don’t represent most of the owners,” she said. “Most of the owners have had to take their airplanes to other places because the facilities have not been adequate for corporate aircraft.
“Jones Management owns three and we want to bring our airplanes back. We paid $600,000 in ad valorem tax to Hamilton County several years ago and we find that pretty unacceptable. There are 50 aircraft that belong to Bradley County owners that cannot use Hardwick Field.
“We really have to take into account this airport is more than a community airport where people get together and fly on Sundays.”
She said there are 13 Fortune 100 manufacturing in the area and Global Express flying into Chattanooga on a weekly basis delivering parts to Volkswagen and other industries.
“Whether we were the right five people chosen for the job or not, we were the five people chosen for the job and our objective was to bring everybody back home and have 85 aircraft on the field as quickly as possible, and honestly, accommodate some smaller users by discriminating on lease rates and have the larger corporate hangars pay a greater share. It wasn’t discriminating against you. It was discriminating in your favor.”
DeVault said the authority wants to be fair and equitable.
“Please understand that your stated purpose for the airport is only one of the things we have to address, so please understand that,” she said.