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Monday, April 23, 2018

SHREVEPORT AIRPORT AUTHORITY

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Are they threatening private aviation?

It’s safe to say that neither the Downtown Airport (DTN) nor Shreveport Regional Airport (SHV) are considered to be tourist attractions. However, if general aviation is your business or hobby, these airports are like a second home.

Problem is that since the arrival of the current Shreveport Airport Authority (SAA) director of airports, Henry Thompson, these airports have become more a battleground than a retreat.

Thompson took the helm as airport director in November 2015, after serving over 20 years at the San Francisco International Airport. Thompson relocated to Shreveport after an employment dust-up in the City by the Bay. He entered into a private settlement with the San Francisco Airport Commission in 2016.

To say Thompson has not become a BFF of the private airport crowd is an understatement. In fact, this group would buy him a one-way ticket to destination anywhere if he were to relocate soon – like yesterday.

Thompson is threatening the very lifeblood of private aviation – hangar leases and minimum standards.

All of the land at the downtown and regional airports is owned by the airport authority.

The airplane hangars are either owned by the SAA or they are privately owned on land leased from the airport.

The issue, for both the businesses and private pilots who own hangars, is that the airport authority seems – at least to them – to have embarked on a land grab. The twofront battle has hit leaseholders both through a reversion clause in the leases and in onerous minimum standards that seem short on due process. Many of these leaseholders have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into hangar building and maintenance, some more than $1 million. The hangars house businesses, corporate jets and small “puddle jumpers” owned by long-time fliers.

Since Thompson’s arrival, the historic practice of “automatic renewal” of leases has ended. And those that have spent major bucks constructing private hangars do not have a guarantee of a continued tenancy with the airport. Additionally, current leaseholders have basically lost the long-honored practice of being able to assign the ground lease to effectuate the sale of the privately constructed hangar.

And although rent is still being paid by the tenants (be they renting a city hangar or just the land under the privately constructed hangar), the SAA has been slow, like in glacial speed slow, in renewing the leases. To its credit, the airport authority did approve the renewal of 16 leases at its last meeting.

When Thompson ran into heated opposition last year with his proposals, Shreveport Mayor Tyler appointed a tenant advisory committee to work through the issues privately.

Jim Graves, Danny Aiello, W.T. Coleman, Mike Stanberry and Chris Kinsey are the valiant committee members who have, to date, taken a vow of public silence. The stalemate between the tenants/leaseholders is still at an impasse despite many meetings and countless hours of which is, to date, wasted effort.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the Shreveport airports. Recently, the FAA conducted an audit of the SAA operations. Reportedly, complaints by the local leaseholders prompted the audit, which has yet to be released.

And despite the nonresolution of the lease issues, Thompson has now increased the pressure on the downtown airport tenants by proposing changes to the minimum standards. This 140-page-plus treatise regulates everything from grasscutting to wind speeds for the users of the downtown facility.

Violations of these rules can lead to terminations of leases. Many of the downtown airport crowd believe Thompson’s objective is just that – to kick them out and take their hangars.

Needless to say, the uncertainty surrounding the substantial investments by hangar owners is causing much distress at both airports. Not only have the values of these expensive improvements plummeted, but many tenants are thinking of relocating out of the area.

And those tenants who have expired leases are in fear that their property will, in effect, be taken by a lease to a third party. Needless to say, litigation is being considered as a last alternative, and the term “class action” has been used.

No doubt Thompson is in the resume building process after his departure from the Golden Gate area. Substantially increasing income to the airport authority by lease renegotiations or hangar “takeovers” is a suspected motivation of his alleged Machiavellian tactics.

This being a re-election year for firstterm Mayor Tyler, the last thing she needs is an angry influential group of citizens and local businesses claiming foul over the actions of a city department head. How much longer the teapot will steam without whistling is an open question. But when it does, one can expect the pot to boil over and hot water to spill out on Thompson, Tyler and the members of the Shreveport Airport Authority.

Seemingly with all the other challenges of the local economy, the very last thing that is needed is for the private pilots and the businesses that depend on general aviation to feel the need to locate elsewhere. According to hangar owners, that possibility is very real.

John E. Settle Jr. has been a resident of Shreveport since January 1977. His articles appear regularly in local publications. He can be reached at 742-5513 or e-mail to: John@jesettle.com.

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