Charge Against Airport Rejected

The Newport News/Williamsburg Airport did not show favoritism, says a Federal Aviation Administration official.

A Federal Aviation Administration official has dismissed a complaint by a company at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport that accused the airport's board of showing illegal favoritism to a competitor.

Rick Aviation -- which has been selling aviation fuel, making repairs, booking and running charters and providing other general-aviation services at the airport for 30 years -- filed the complaint against the airport in November 2005.

The company argued that the Peninsula Airport Commission, the board that serves the airport, and its staff had wrongly favored Los Angeles-based Mercury Air Group when it selected that company to move into a separate, prime spot to sell fuel and provide other services.

But in an order dated May 8, David L. Bennett, the director of the FAA's office of airport safety and standards, wrote of one of several of Rick Aviation's complaints: "Complainant has not presented any evidence or argument that (the Peninsula Airport Commission) has unjustly discriminated against Rick."

Several similar statements followed other Rick Aviation complaints, and on the last page of Bennett's 44-page document, he wrote: "The director finds that the Peninsula Airport Commission is not in violation."

Rick Aviation said it plans to appeal Bennett's decision, first to higher levels at the FAA -- and, if that fails, to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

"This is far from over," said John Bombaro, Rick Aviation's president. "We're a little dismayed that they dismissed it, but I'm not going to get off this bandwagon. I've had too many people look at it and say it's discriminatory. I'm in this for the long haul."

Bombaro said he was looking forward to taking the case to federal court, "where I've wanted to be all along."

"We have no other choice than to continue with this fight," he said.

He would not elaborate on that, but there is other pending litigation between Rick Aviation and the airport.

Jim Smith, the airport's executive director, declined to comment Tuesday on the FAA's determination, saying the airport's attorney has advised him and the board not to speak about the issue.

In its FAA complaint, Rick Aviation argued that the airport mismanaged the selection process for a contract to provide similar services in another spot at the airport. Rick Aviation also alleges that the airport has permitted Mercury to operate without complying with minimum required standards, has provided more favorable lease terms to Mercury than to Rick and has blocked Rick Aviation from providing services that it's permitted to provide under its lease. The company asked the FAA to withhold any federal funds promised to the Peninsula Airport Commission and refuse future grants.

The airport denied those claims, asserting that Rick's complaint "is the result of a misplaced sense of entitlement by a (fuel provider) with a long history at the airport" that fails to see the facility's duty is "not to favor its longtime tenants but to serve the public and the larger aeronautical community." *



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