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Pilots attempt to ground lease agreement, rent increase

By DAVID TEWES
Jan. 12, 2011 at 5 p.m.
Updated Jan. 11, 2011 at 7:12 p.m.


DID YOU KNOW? The Victoria Regional Airport provides hangar space for 44 aircraft.

About 30 of the renters have already signed leases.

The leases are 11- and 12-pages long, depending on the type of hangar covered.

Plans to raise the rent and have aircraft owners sign leases for hangar space at the Victoria Regional Airport didn't fly with pilots Wednesday.

O.F. Jones III, a pilot and attorney, was one of several aviators who said during a meeting Wednesday he wouldn't sign the lease.

"This lease is basically just a general, one-size-fits-all lease," he said after the meeting "It's too broad, and there's a lot of stuff in there that's not relevant, not needed and not applicable."

And there are questions about liability that need also to be addressed, he said.

The pilots' concerns prompted S.F. "Trey" Ruschhaupt, chairman of the airport commission, and County Commissioner Gary Burns to extend the signing deadline at least a month.

They said that would give the leaseholders' representatives a chance to meet with the county's legal counsel to discuss and work out differences.

The pilot focus group meeting was headed by Jason Milewski, whose company manages the airport. He tried to explain the reason for having pilots sign a written lease and for raising the rent.

The session was attended by about 25 people, including about five airport staff members and two airport commissioners. There are about 44 aircraft stored in airport hangars.

Milewski said the airport has been operating at about a $450,000-a-year deficit, with the county making up the difference from the general fund. That means the county's taxpayers are subsidizing the leaseholders, he said.

"The lease agreements are extensive, and they are ominous," he said. "But there is nothing in there we can change extensively."

He said the leases are an attempt to make sure everyone pays a fair share for rent and operates under the same rules.

But pilot Hollis Millard complained about the agreement being 12-pages long and about some of the wording used.

"Where I come from, when you have a bunch of stuff in here like that, there's a rattlesnake in it," he said. "I'm looking for the rattlesnake."

Rudolph Pena, a pilot and medical doctor, asked why the leaseholders and airport staff can't meet and tweak the agreement.

"We consider this our airport," he said. "We've been here a long time - longer than you have."

Milewski said the agreement is a standard lease and only puts into writing what has been airport policy all along. He also said the new rates are still less than what was recommended by a comprehensive study.

"People are looking for a catch," he said. "There is no catch."

Airport Commissioner J.R. "Jim" Hartman said he didn't want the pilots to think the rate increase is an attempt to force them to make up the airport's entire $450,000 deficit.

He said the airport has been raising rent for the commercial operations outside the immediate airfield over the past three years as their leases are renewed. Hartman said the pilots are the last ones to be part of the process.

"Sometimes you can't please everybody, no matter what you do," he said. But Hartman added the airport staff and commissioners are trying to do what they can to address concerns.

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