Group asks FAA to overrule board

LAFAYETTE - Attorneys representing local investors are again asking the Federal Aviation Administration to overturn a decision by the Lafayette Airport Commission to select an out-of-town group to be the airport's fixed-based operator.

In a complaint filed Thursday with the FAA, Paul Fournet Air Service and Herbert Schilling II allege that the commission awarded Million Air the fixed-base operator contract in a way that violates FAA rules and regulations.

They are asking the FAA to declare the Million Air lease was awarded in violation of regulations, order the airport to terminate the contract and re-open the selection process.

A fixed-base operator is an independent air service company that provides or contracts for charter air service, airplane maintenance and storage, flying schools and other services.

Paul Fournet Air Service - also known as PFAS - has operated as fixed-base operator at the Lafayette Regional Airport since 1952.

In 2005, the commission accepted proposals from three companies - including Million Air and a joint venture of Fournet Air Service and local investors - to reach a new lease agreement on a fixed-base operator.

The Fournet group, which included Schilling, submitted a proposal on the deadline. Meanwhile, the complaint alleges, Million Air submitted only a general letter that did not meet the specifications for proposals established by the commission.

Two days later - after the proposals were public - Million Air submitted a "supplement" to its proposal.

The complaint alleges that by allowing Million Air to see the other proposals, the commission allowed the company to beat the other proposals.

A few days later, the commission voted to negotiate exclusively with Million Air.

The complaint further alleges that as those negotiations progressed, Million Air's deal became less and less beneficial to the airport.

In a report compiled by an accountant and attached to the complaint, the investors group alleges that its original proposal was a better deal for the airport than the deal eventually struck with Million Air - better by $2.7 million.

While the airport was not required to follow public bid laws to award the lease, it does have to abide by FAA regulations, the complaint alleges.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that the commission's actions violated the following FAA rules:

- Failure to uniformly apply conditions for the engagement of a commercial aeronautical enterprise.

- Failure to develop and publish minimum standards for the lease "in advance of negotiations with any prospective tenant or operator."

- Failure to uniformly apply the same standards to all tenant operators seeking the same franchise.

Fournet Air Service filed a similar complaint with the FAA last year. The FAA treated it as an informal complaint and then dismissed it informally, investors' attorney Michael Hebert said.

The investors appealed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was decided that the investors had the right to make a more formal complaint - which was filed this week.

Hebert said the FAA and commission will have a chance to formally respond to the complaint and that the investors will have a chance to make follow up arguments.

The FAA will decide whether to decide the case based on the information presented or whether to hold a full hearing, Hebert said.

The commission voted last week to file suit against Paul Fournet Air Service to seek what the commission says are $800,000 in maintenance costs the company owes.

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