Pilots appointed to Hazleton airport advisory board

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Apr. 22--A group of five local businessmen who are also licensed pilots believe the Hazleton Municipal Airport is an under-promoted asset.

Hazleton City Council on Wednesday appointed the flyers to a newly created Airport Advisory Board, which will advise and assist the city and the airport's fixed base operator with operations and proposed improvements.

The appointed board members include Mark Osadchy of Hazleton, Robert Delese of Freeland, and Drums residents Mark Frumkin, Dave Antolick and Dr. Thomas Kislan.

Council unanimously approved a resolution that also rescinds the city's former Airport Advisory Committee. The new board consists of five appointed voting members and two non-voting ex-officio members including the city's director of public works and a member appointed by the fixed base operator.

The appointed board members serve for five-year terms, which are staggered for one expiration each year.

City Director of Public Works John Ackerman serves as ex-officio board member, as does current fixed base operator, Al Roman.

According to Ackerman, the proposal to create the new advisory board came from the pilots.

"They are all pilots. They all have planes at the airport. And they all see the airport as an asset that they are eager to promote," Ackerman said.

Fly-in events in which participants arrive by air and spectators gather to see the spectacle are among the promotional events the pilots propose, Ackerman said.

The board will also propose various facility improvements, which will be considered by the city and fixed base operator. But the members are not empowered to enter into contracts, agreements or commitments on behalf of the city utilizing city funds.

The action complements projects currently under way at the airport, including upgrades to the aviation weather system and replacement of the runway beacon, which is used by pilots to locate the airport and runway at night.

Ackerman said the estimated cost of the project is between $175,000 and $200,000, and is funded by Federal Aviation Administration grants awarded through the state Department of Transportation Bureau of Aviation.

The city is also preparing to advertise a bid solicitation for a project that will upgrade the airport's electrical lighting. The lighting project is expected to cost about $520,0000 and is also funded with an FAA grant, Ackerman said.

City resident Dee Deakos asked council to explain the wisdom of keeping long-time airport fixed base operator Alvin Roman, 81, in that position.

Deakos cited the August 2008 crash of a helicopter piloted by Roman during a charity fundraising event in Schuylkill County. The crash injured Roman and his passenger, Joseph Matteo. Following an investigation into the cause of the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said Roman lacked a current medical certificate and current flight review, and his helicopter had not been inspected in the previous year.

Deakos also cited a published news report that Roman entered a no-contest plea in Luzerne County court for alleged violations of workers' compensation insurance and income tax laws. According to the report, Roman entered the plea and was sentenced to a total of five years probation on six counts of workers' compensation insurance payment and one count each of willfully evading/defeating earned-income tax and failure to make required payments.

In addition, Deakos noted Roman's March filing of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy claim on behalf of his Ashley-based No. 1 Contracting Corp. in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. According to the filing, Roman reported the business owes between $1 million and $10 million and has less than $50,000 in assets.

Mayor Lou Barletta defended Roman when Deakos asked, "Is this the kind of person you want to keep in this position at the airport?"

"What you failed to mention in your character attack on Mr. Roman is the thousands of hours in charitable work he has done for people all over this area," Barletta said. "Yes, he is 81 years old and, God bless him, I hope he lives a long time. He risks his life in charity to others. And if you or anyone else did as much charity work as he does, we would be in a much better place."

The new Airport Advisory Board will meet at the board's discretion and make periodic reports to the mayor and council concerning all matters related to the airport.

mlight@standardspeaker.com

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