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"Florida airport tenant sues Port Authority, calls it a 'government bully' and a 'predator'"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Private Sky Aviation sues Lee County Port Authority alleging unfair
By Laura Ruane
The Fort Myers (FL) News-Press

A tenant at Southwest Florida International Airport is suing Lee County Port
Authority, claiming the authority "uses its status as a government entity"
to unfairly compete with his company.

The suit was filed Tuesday in the Fort Myers division of U.S. District
Court, on behalf of PrivateSky Aviation Realty LLC and PrivateSky Aviation
Services Inc. It asks for a jury trial.

Among other allegations, the suit says the authority has a monopoly on key
services at Page Field general aviation airport, such as refueling. 

That, combined with government grants the authority has gotten to help make
capital improvements at Page, means lost revenue for PrivateSky and "causes
PrivateSky irreparable harm," according to the suit. The grants help curb
the authority's debt and operating costs - allowing the authority to sell
such things as fuel for less, the suit claims.

The suit comes less than a month before a new, $16.2 million passenger
terminal complex opens at Page. Its dedication ceremony is scheduled for
Aug. 25, with operations moving there Aug. 31.

It also follows a March 15 letter from Vincent Wolanin, PrivateSky chairman
and CEO, to Bob Ball, port authority executive director. 

In the letter, Wolanin requested a discussion with airport leaders on how to
make competition fair, suggesting "mediation may be an effective way to
conduct this discussion."

An email from Wolanin on Tuesday said the authority ignored his letter,
prompting his decision to sue.

Port authority spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said late Tuesday afternoon:
"We have not seen any lawsuit, and cannot comment on something we haven't

PrivateSky fuels and services private jets using Southwest Florida
International Airport. 

It has had a lease at the international airport since 2000. 

In 2003, the company opened the bright-yellow building it built on the
international airport's north side.

The port authority, under the direction of the Lee County commissioners,
wears two hats at Page: airport manager and fixed base operator.

As manager, the authority maintains the airport facilities. As fixed base
operator, or FBO in aviation jargon, it provides catering, car rentals and
aviation fuel service.

It's been the sole FBO at Page since early 1998. Before that, the authority
maintained the airport, and as airport landlord, took a cut of the revenues
earned by two private FBOs. Lee County commissioners had decided several
years before they wanted to run fuel sales at Page to stem financial losses
at the airport, and to help pay for its improvements.

Although no property tax dollars go to airport operations, county leaders
used fees from the international airport to cover Page Field deficits, which
were averaging about $200,000 a year in the mid 1990s. 

On Tuesday afternoon, County Commission Chairman Frank Mann said he hadn't
seen the suit. When told that one allegation suggests the Page upgrades
would hurt PrivateSky's business, Mann said, "I think that's going to be
difficult for (Wolanin) to prove."

Wolanin wouldn't respond to phone calls Tuesday evening, responding by email
only to emailed-questions. What remedy he expects is unclear in the lawsuit.
When asked what the authority should do to make competition fair, he wrote
back: "Will be determined by the judge and jury!"

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