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"FAR Part 16: Complaints threaten Virginia airport grant funding"


 
Sunday, December 10, 2006

Complaints threaten airport grant funding
The Newport News (VA) Daily Press


NEWPORT NEWS -- Two complaints against the Newport News/Williamsburg
International Airport from small companies based at the airport raise the
possibility that the facility will be forced to give back federal money.

One complaint comes from Airborne Tactical Advantage Co. (ATAC), which has
several fighter jets at the airport that it flies to provide combat training
for U.S. military pilots. The other stems from the airport's long-running
dispute with fuel provider Rick Aviation.

Both complaints are filed with the Federal Aviation Administration. Both ask
the FAA to refuse future grant applications from the airport, demand it
repay federal grants and withhold federal money promised to the facility.

FAA spokeswoman Marcia Adams said these requests are common in this type of
filing, known as a "Part 16" complaint. It's not unusual for U.S. airports
to have more than one complaint filed against them, Adams said.

In the past six years, the FAA has ruled in favor of the complainant about
30 percent of the time.

ATAC claims the Newport News airport has discriminated against the company
by requiring a contract that's less favorable than the facility's deals with
other tenants. The company, which says it has been in business at the
airport since 1997, says the airport didn't negotiate or provide a detailed
contract.

The FAA currently has a stay on ATAC's complaint, and both sides have agreed
to negotiate. But if the talks break down, the FAA's complaint proceedings
will resume. ATAC filed the complaint a year ago. That was after the airport
sought to bar the company from operating at the facility with legal action
in September 2005.

The airport denies ATAC's claims, saying the facility's staff first noticed
in the spring of 2004 that the company had a sublease at the airport. The
airport says it spent more than a year trying to "bring ATAC to the
discussion table" in order to reach an operating agreement. It also says the
company had been operating without a business license and had "simply
blended into" the approved activities of another airport tenant.

ATAC argues that the airport should have been aware of the company earlier.
ATAC cites its signs at the airport and a 2002 article in the Daily Press
that detailed the company's Navy contract and use of the Newport News
facility. The company also has locations in California and Nevada. It owns
about a dozen aircraft, including Israeli-built F-21 Kfir jets and
British-built Hawker Hunter F58s.

The complaint from Rick Aviation is expected to get settled by the end of
the year. The FAA plans to issue a decision this month, said Adams, the FAA
spokeswoman. Earlier this year, a decision was expected in November.

Rick filed its complaint last year after pursuing a lawsuit against the
airport in 2004. Rick - in business at the airport for nearly 30 years -
sells fuel and other services for general-aviation planes.

The company has argued the airport mismanaged the selection process for a
contract to provide similar services in another spot at the airport. In
filings with the FAA, the fuel provider says the airport has discriminated
against it and showed favoritism toward the company that was selected, Los
Angeles-based Mercury Air Group, operator of Mercury Air Centers.

Rick alleges the airport has permitted Mercury to operate without complying
with minimum standards, provided more favorable lease terms to Mercury and
blocked Rick from providing services. One document filed with the FAA says,
"Rick Aviation merely asks that PAC treat all (fuel providers) equally."

PAC is the Peninsula Airport Commission, which oversees the Newport
News/Williamsburg International Airport.

The airport denies Rick's claims. An airport filing with the FAA says the
company's complaint is "the result of a misplaced sense of entitlement by a
(fuel provider) with a long history at the airport" that fails to see the
facility's duty is "not to favor its longtime tenants, but to serve the
public and the larger aeronautical community."

In addition to its legal battles with Rick and ATAC, the airport faces a
lawsuit from Flight International, another tenant at the airport. The
company, which became part of New York-based L-3 Communications about three
years ago, is disputing a new lease that the airport has offered.

James H. Shoemaker Jr., an attorney for Flight International, said the two
sides are negotiating and he expects a resolution within a month or two. The
aviation services company uses its pilots and planes to, among other things,
fly in close to Navy ships to help train ship-based gunners and radar
operators.

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