Valley airport closure grounded, for now

By - Last modified: June 14, 2013 at 12:12 PM

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The board of governors for the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority said at a special meeting Thursday that it would wait 120 days before deciding the future of Braden Airpark. Late last month, LNAA staff recommended closing the general aviation airport in Forks Township.

After hearing a presentation from authority staff on the economics of operating Braden in late May, there was certainly a good argument for the authority to discontinue operations, said Tony Ianelli, board chairman. But after hearing about the impact on the community, it seemed wise to take 120 days to review alternatives, Ianelli said.

"It was clear the general aviation community does not want it closed," Ianelli said. The authority board also heard from Northampton County officials and some state legislators, who also expressed concerns.

"We haven't had any formal offers," Ianelli said about a potential sale of the airpark. "I guess the free market would determine that."

The township would also determine the best usage of the property, Ianelli said.

"We do have an appraisal; it's not something we are in a position to disclose," said Charles Everett, executive director for the authority, referring to the dollar amount.

"If I were to disclose it publicly, it would impact the selling price."

The authority performed a site investigation of the facility and found it would need $450,000 to provide maintenance upgrades to meet current standards. Over a five-year period, Braden would require $2.2 million in improvements, Everett said.

The airport authority also is faced with paying off a $14 million debt from a $16 million judgment.

"The airport authority cannot operate three airports," Everett said.

Everett said the authority board wanted to ensure that the general aviation community had adequate time to propose alternatives to closing the airport.

"It sounds like the airport authority did the right thing," said Erik Chuss, a pilot and chairman of the board of supervisors in Forks. "They are obtaining all the information related to the decision to close the airport and possibly sell it. It's a shame this wasn't done six months ago when there was a fixed base operator there."

Now, with Moyer Aviation gone, there is no maintenance, flight training or supplies for pilots, Chuss said. He has been using the airport for 14 years and said there are people who have gone on to military careers after going through flight training school at Braden. Also, there are people who use the airport for business, including a real estate appraiser and mechanical repairman, Chuss said.

At Thursday's meeting, the authority board was faced with a monumental community response to the authority's plan to close the airport, said Michael Rosenfeld, president of the Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association.

"They agreed to the four months which I think was appropriate under the circumstances," Rosenfeld said. "The easiest solution would be to find a buyer or buyers to take over Braden Airpark. It won't survive otherwise."

Rosenfeld said the authority looks at Braden as a burden and an obstacle.

"We are forming a committee to seek a buyer, our goal is to have someone else own and operate this airport," Rosenfeld said.

Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it. Brian also has a strong interest in health and fitness. He works part-time as a personal trainer at Steel Fitness Riverport in Bethlehem and earned his personal fitness trainer certification from World Instructor Training Schools. He loves to run and will be competing in his first half-marathon on Nov. 23 to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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