Living A Dream
By Jodi Prill, Associate Editor
pilots join forces and show what can be achieved through shared love of
West Chester, PA — Dave Nelson retired as manager of the Brandywine Airport June 1, 2002. But with Young Eagles bustling about him and others in and out of the airport all stopping to talk and ask questions, it’s obvious "retirement" is a very loose term. Nelson is also a pilot owner of the airport, along with about 100 other of his fellow aviators. This small group made its desire to save its local airport a reality — a successful reality.
miles west of Philadelphia lies Brandywine Airport. In 1997 it was in
danger of being sold to a developer not interested in keeping it operational
as an airport. The Brandywine Airport Pilots Association, made up of local
GA pilots, didn’t want to see its airport dismantled, so it came
up with a plan: The club’s members would purchase the airport and
operate it as a non-profit entity. More than five years later, the airport
has expanded to include a terminal building, hangars, and an elongated
runway. The pilots of the New Brandywine Airport Club are living their
dream — to own an airport.
Nelson explains he bought into the project with his brother. The two developed an early passion for flying with the help of their father who was a flight instructor. Nelson previously worked in education, and then in banking. Originally, he agreed to help out at the airport on Mondays and Fridays, just to keep things running smoothly. That lasted nine months before everyone realized it had become a full-time job and the Club agreed to officially hire him as manager in 1997.
THE PURCHASE PLAN
This Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey Prototype No. 3 is on display at The American Helicopter Museum, across the runway from Brandywine Airport, West Chester, PA.
says Brandywine Airport began operations in 1939 and was a grass field
with only a maintenance shop until the mid-1980s when the terminal building
was constructed. In 1997, the owner at the time, Bill Wilson, put the
airport up for sale and had a verbal agreement with a developer to make
the property an industrial park.
"That’s when the pilots got together and decided to chip in money to buy the airport," Nelson explains. "We didn’t want to be at the whim of big business or an industrial park."
Not having any models to follow, Brandywine Airport Club mailed a brochure to all its members and other pilots in the local area in order to garner the $2.5 million it would take to purchase the airport. It stated, "Live your dream to own an airport. Fulfill our dream to save one of the Philadelphia area’s premiere general aviation airports."
The Club’s plan included purchasing the airport from Wilson, and building 35 T-hangars and 10 corporate hangars. "It was a gold rush," Nelson says. "We pre-sold the whole project." The Club actually had to add 15 more T-hangars to meet the demand and interest that was created through the venture.
Fortunately, the Club had all the right things to make the business arrangement work:
• a dedicated group willing to devote the necessary time and energy,
• a reasonable purchase price,
• a cooperative seller (Wilson, who was also a pilot, loved the idea),
• something to induce people to invest, "With us, it was the hangars," Nelson says.
The Club held an informational meeting and asked prospective "owners" to make an initial deposit of $2,000. "People were practically running up to the table and saying ’Here, take my money,’" Nelson says.
Each pilot was then required to purchase two shares for a T-hangar and four shares for a corporate hangar at $10,000 per share, as well as cover the construction cost of the hangar space. "It’s like a condo association," Nelson explains. "The pilots bought the right to occupy a hangar and own shares in the airport."
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