Airport commissioners laid down a deadline Thursday to trigger a new business deal with Tri-Cities Regional Airport’s longtime main general aviation operator — while leaving open an option to terminate their old deal.
Tri-City Aviation (TCA) has served TCRA for nearly 40 years, but their business relationship began flying south more than a year ago.
In March 2008, TCRA alleged TCA was not meeting its 2002 lease agreement obligations, which included more capital investment in its operation, spending more on marketing, and maintaining proper security procedures.
TCA officials disagreed with the bulk of those allegations, and both sides entered into mediation talks, which failed.
“We’re nowhere closer to a resolution today than we were a month ago or two months ago or a year ago, for that matter,” TCRA legal counsel Bill Bovender told commissioners.
Airport commissioners set June 25 or their next meeting to reach a new operating agreement with TCA or kill the old lease if a deal can’t be reached.
A predominant underlying issue appears to be TCRA’s loss of general aviation aircraft from TCA to surrounding smaller airports, most notably in Abingdon and Elizabethton.
“We’re losing the weekend flyer,” Mike Lloyd, TCA’s operations and maintenance manager, told airport commissioners.
Lloyd and TCA President Pam Phillips stood before commissioners and did a point-by-point rebuttal of TCRA’s case against them.
They claimed TCA is prepared to invest more in its facilities and defended imposing ramp fees on incoming private aircraft.
“This has been an incredibly long and dreadful year for me, personally. ... It’s been really difficult,” Phillips told commissioners. “I understand there’s been mistakes on our part ... (but) I believe it can be corrected.”
Commissioners also heard testimonials from TCA’s supporters.
“We trust them. They trust us. We feel like we get good quality service (from TCA),” said Joe Smith, president of Skycrafters Inc.
However, Airport Commissioner Ken Maness of Kingsport said everyone needs to set history aside. TCRA, Maness maintained, was forced to re-examine its relationship with TCA because lease conditions weren’t being met.
“What we have determined is that leasehold arrangement is not one that will serve the airport best going forward,” Maness stressed. “We’ve spent a year on how best to go forward, and we really haven’t gotten very far. This desire to tenaciously hang on to this old arrangement, that is going away. ... It’s a new day.”
A draft of new operating guidelines between TCRA and TCA calls for new customer service standards and the number of new based private aircraft gradually going up each year through 2014.
It also calls for new minimum annual operating fees and no mandate for future capital investment in more hangar facilities, but an option for the airport to build and move TCA into new general aviation facilities.
Both sides indicated they would like to avoid a lawsuit.
“If the lawyers were out of here, we could get this resolved,” said Wayne Culbertson, TCA’s attorney. “They want to stay here. They’ve done a good job. Over 39 years, they’ve done a good job ... (but) there are things in the lease where they’ve dropped the ball, and they admit that.”
For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.
For more about TCA go to www.tricityaviation.com.comments powered by Disqus