Lafayette airport to sue air service

LAFAYETTE - The long relationship between the Lafayette Regional Airport and Paul Fournet Air Service that has gone sour in the past couple of years may have grown even worse with this week's decision by the airport commission to file suit for more than $800,000 from the air service.

The Lafayette Airport Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to file suit against PFAS to collect the more than $800,000 the commission claims the company owes in maintenance costs.

Commission Chairman Carroll Robichaux said Thursday that PFAS signed a contract in 1988 that included many requirements for the company, such as aircraft sales and rental, flight training and covering maintenance, repair and replacement costs for the portion of the airport PFAS leased.

Paul Fournet owner-operator Richard Fournet, son of the man who founded the operation in 1952, said Friday that the commission is heavily overstating the amount of maintenance needed on the space his company leases.

"That number has been used previously to argue their point and to negate anything I have to say," he said. "There is a gulf between what they are purporting to do and what the truth is."

Commissioner Jim Nunn said the annual lease amount charged to PFAS of about $50,000 was about $31,000 below fair market value, based on the obligation that PFAS would take care of maintenance and repairs of the leased space.

Those savings are close to the $720,000 PFAS owes in undone maintenance, he said.

Nunn said that the airport also had to front $92,000 to cover the costs of making space that PFAS wanted to sublet ready to rent, and that should be added to the tab.

"Paul Fournet Air Services has not maintained the facility at all. He is in violation of the lease," he said. "One can only conclude that Paul Fournet Air Service owes the people of Acadiana a tremendous amount of money."

Commissioner Charles Wyatt said at the Thursday meeting that the commission, acting on suggestions from the public and other government agencies, is trying improve its operations.

"The motion was made in the spirit of doing a better job with the public's money," he said.

Fournet said Friday that he was not buying into the commission's publicly stated goals.

"That's not what their mission is," he said. "Their mission is to vilify me."

Disagreements between the commission and PFAS go back years, but became general public knowledge in midsummer 2006 when the commission voted to bring an out-of-state company - Million Air - to serve as the airport's fixed-base operator when the PFAS lease ends on Dec. 31.

Fixed-base operators are independent air service companies that provide or contract for charter air services, airplane maintenance and storage, flying schools and other services.

The commission voted in 2004 to begin looking for a new fixed-base operator to lease space to, and took proposals from three companies - including PFAS and Million Air - in spring of 2005.

Fournet has said in the past that he recognizes that PFAS has not met all requirements of it lease, including maintenance and operation of a flight school.

He said last year that PFAS, in combination with former competitor Lafayette Aero, and a group of local investors put together a plan to help catch up on maintenance, but lost out to Million Air.

Part of Million Air's proposal was to several million dollars on capital improvements to the area it will lease.

Fournet has tried to fight the decision in court, thus far without success, questioning the way the commission chose who would receive the new lease contract.

He said that the group backing PFAS was ready to sink millions of dollars of private money into the space PFAS leased, while the commission is spending more than $400,000 on a hangar for Million Air.

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