GALLIPOLIS — Gallia-Meigs Regional Airport hangar tenants came before the Gallia Commissioners Thursday with concerns regarding a lease placed before them by the commissioners after reportedly a decade of leaseless hangar arrangements.
“My name is Ryan Elliot, me and my family reside in Green Township,” said Elliot. “Today I’m coming to you as a taxpayer and hangar tenant of the Gallia-Meigs Regional Airport. We’re going to talk about rules and hangar rent increase. Do you guys realize that we are now approaching $50,000 a year worth of lost revenue based on the hangar rules and rent increase?”
Gallia Commissioner Harold Montgomery asked Elliot how he came to that conclusion. Elliot replied because many of his tenant colleagues had moved their aircraft out of their previous hangars. He replied rent revenue was gone now as the pilots had moved onto other airports. Elliot said he felt hangar rental increases was considerably higher than other nearby airports. The old rental fee was reportedly $125 and new rents had jumped to $178 a month.
Montgomery replied the increases were to account for inflation. Further information in the meeting would reveal the rents differ reportedly based on the size of the hangars. Montgomery said the airport had not raised hangar rent rates for 11 years. If a hangar is empty, the county would look to rent it to someone else. The commissioner countered the county would not lose money.
Middleport resident, hangar tenant and pilot Bruce Postlethwait said 16 pilots had moved out of the airport due to the new lease terms.
Elliot said he and his colleagues were discontent with the condition of the hangars and that animals and flooding would enter the buildings. He felt rent was too high considering the reported condition of the hangars and felt they had not been maintained. He felt the tenants had been lied to by previous airport management and the commissioners did not care about the facility. The pilot said communication was not strong between administration and the tenants.
“We have one of the better airports in southern Ohio and the commissioners do care,” said Montgomery. “We’ve spent a lot of time and money into that airport and there have been millions of dollars spent there.”
Elliot said the tenants at the meeting felt taken unaware with a new lease and had not been informed one was coming or had a chance to discuss what was within its terms. He said tenants were willing and wanted to help to maintain the airport. Elliot pointed to one pilot in the room whom he said had modified a jet fuel nozzle, free of charge, so the county could sell fuel to helicopters.
Montgomery said the lease was drafted with the assistance of county legal counsel. Members of counsel were addressing other matters at the time of the meeting with the hangar tenants and not present for the discussion.
Postlethwait said he felt there were inconsistencies in the lease and that some parts of it may not meet Federal Aviation Administration specifications. He said he felt that the hangars were not being rented for fair market value after he and fellow pilots investigated area lease prices.
“This is one that’s vital and against FAA regulations,” said Postlethwait as he addressed a part of the new lease, reading aloud. “‘No commercial activity shall be conducted by any tenant of Gallia-Meigs Airport property.’ Absolutely verboten by the FAA. We are to encourage local businesses and aviation… A person there left because of that clause and one of your local businesses lost $20,000 a year in sales because that clause and only that clause forced him to leave.”
Postlethwait asked commissioners to table the lease so the tenants and commissioners could discuss ongoing concerns. He claimed the commissioners were sent another form of a lease that met FAA standards and was commonly used in other areas.
“In most leases, the owners establish the lease,” said Montgomery.
Postlethwait replied he felt the FAA was the “boss” in this situation.
Dan Riegle, another pilot, handed the commissioners some information regarding FAA obligated airports, stating he had worked for the FAA before retiring. Riegle said the Gallia-Meigs Regional Airport is reportedly FAA obligated due to having made use of federal dollars in the past. He said complaints issued to the FAA about airports could effect grant funding from federal institutions in the future.
“First of all, I’m a tenant of Gallia-Meigs Airport and been so for about 30 years,” said Gallia Commissioner David Smith. “That being said, I did not vote on the specific lease when it was adopted but I did vote on the specific rules that were adopted because I felt that was the proper thing to do…I appreciate everyone being here today. I like the communication, but don’t come down threatening us because that’s what I interpreted. The Gallia County Commissioners do own that airport. We have funded it tremendously.”
Gallia Commissioners rehabilitated the airport’s runway over the last few years as part of a project totaling around $1.2 million. A grant from the FAA was awarded to the airport. The county provided a roughly $120,000 match in funding while the rest of the project was funded by the grant.
Smith shared his personal experiences as a commissioner and as a pilot in his attempts to strengthen the airport. The commissioner spoke on adopted rule concerns because of disputes surrounding things like courtesy car usage, dumpster use and a county auction that had reportedly been proposed to take place at the airport. He said security cameras had recently been placed at the airport to address a theft problem with aviation fuel. Postlethwait replied he felt those theft claims were untrue.
At the end of the meeting, the commissioners said they would take the tenants concerns into consideration but ruled on nothing official. Should the proposed lease go into effect, it would begin in November.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.