NATA Calls Town Halls Successful

 - March 19, 2008, 1:26 PM

After recent visits to three Florida airports under pressure either to close or severely restrict operations, National Air Transportation Association president Jim Coyne termed the “town hall” meetings successful.

“I’ve visited thousands of airports and spoken to scores and scores of communities like this time and time again,” Coyne stated at a meeting in Naples, Fla., where the FAA recently ruled that the Naples Municipal Airport’s ban on Stage 2 aircraft was illegal. “People will stand up and say, ‘Shouldn’t we be able to overturn this somehow? Shouldn’t we be able to assert our preemption over the federal government because, after all, we’re American.’ Time and time again the courts reach the same decision: the federal government’s preemption is just and honorable.”

NATA members, airport tenants, the media and members of the Naples Airport Authority attended the meeting.

At meetings at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg and at Witham Field in Stuart, Coyne emphasized that in addition to all the economic benefits airports provide to the community, shutting down an airport is shutting off that community from the rest of the national air-transportation system.

“When an airport is threatened with closure, there’s often a secret agenda,” said Coyne in St. Petersburg. “In almost every single case, the real reason is greed.” In the case of Whitted, voters will decide this month whether to keep the downtown waterfront airport or replace it with a park.

“My intent with these meetings is to make sure that the communities hear both sides of the story and that they realize all the benefits of the airport to their community,” Coyne stated. “We intend to hold more of these meetings wherever airports are threatened.”

The Tampa Tribune said Coyne told nearly 40 aviation entrepreneurs and enthusiasts that with the April 1 closing of Chicago’s Meigs Field, which topped a national list of the 100 “most needed” yet threatened airports, St. Petersburg’s Whitted airport is now the second most endangered.

And according to the Naples Daily News, the Naples Airport Authority has spent more than $3 million in legal fees and studies to defend the Stage 2 ban, and the bill continues to escalate. Meanwhile, the authority has raised fuel prices and rent for tenants at the airport to try to recover these costs, it said.

Coyne was quoted as saying there is real injustice in this case, because it is the tenants at the Naples airport who are footing the legal bill through fees paid to the authority.