State of Portage Airport Up in the Air as New Manager Resigns, Former Commissioner Takes Action Against City

June 5, 2024

Jun. 4—Just as the Portage Municipal Airport was getting back on track after the threat of shutting down last summer, the airport manager has resigned, the main hangar is closed, the terminal building is locked, and a former airport commission member accused of bullying and threatening to burn down a hangar is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from evicting him from one of his hangars.

Paul Phelps, owner of Sun Sport Aviation, has resigned as the airport's manager and fixed base operator after seven months in the position. He was hired in November, and Monday was his and his aviation company's last official day.

Phelps did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

"The city feels very badly about it because we have great respect for Paul and the business he was having out there," city administrator Michael Bablick said of Phelps' resignation. "He was doing good things for the airport, but is leaving because of a contract dispute with another member (of the airport) and it's very unfortunate."

Phelps' hiring appeared to have solidified the city's commitment to its airport community just months after the Common Council voted to keep the airport open following weeks of uncertainty about its future after two council members introduced a resolution that could have directed city staff to ask federal and state agencies what it would take to shut down an airport and abolish its airport commission.

Phelps' resignation was discussed during a closed council session on May 23. Bablick would not provide specific details, including Phelps' resignation letter, on Monday.

"The matter has been discussed in closed session, and the reason for the meeting to be in a closed session has also not been resolved yet," said Bablick.

The city will be taking over landlord duties at the airport for the foreseeable future, Bablick said. A city maintenance worker will be assigned to managing hanger tenants and the fuel they use, taking care of the grounds, and general maintenance jobs such as replacing burned-out runway lights and other repairs.

The terminal building at the airport is locked, and the main hangar is essentially empty. Pilots are still able to gain access to a small flight planning room on the backside of the building, which has a bathroom and computer.

Bablick said there will likely be a search for another airport manager in the near future, but that may not happen for a number of months.

"There won't be anything moving forward out there until this (court case) is resolved," said Bablick. "We will want a manager out there who is drumming up business and hangar leases, but we are not going to hire anybody right now with this environment."

Recent turbulence

In February, then-airport commission member Adam Gazapian asked the commission to allow his company, Tailwinds, to operate at the airport as a second fixed-base operator, or FBO, offering services such as aircraft leasing, rentals, charters, freights, sales and maintenance.

His request was met with pushback from the aviation community at an airport commission meeting on Feb. 27, where airport users and Phelps accused him of a "pattern of behavior that includes bullying, intimidation" and a threat to burn down a hangar at the airport.

Phelps responded to the incidents described at the meeting saying that while he didn't condone Gazapian's actions, he wanted to work to find a way to move forward, while upholding the values and standards expected of the airport's leaders and governance.

Following the accusations, Mayor Mitchel Craig ordered that Gazapian be removed from the airport commission on March 13.

Court case

According to a letter written by Bablick on March 14, which was sent to Gazapian and his attorney, the Common Council decided during a closed session on March 14 that Gazapian had to surrender one of his hangar leases in the airport's main hangar. Gazapian was ordered to remove his belongings from the main hangar by March 22, after he had made several prior verbal commitments to city staff, Phelps and other members of the airport commission that he would voluntarily surrender the lease upon Phelps being hired.

However, after Phelps took the position in November, Gazapian retracted his prior commitment and then said that he would vacate the main hangar after he received a ground lease that he purchased from another member of the airport. After the city negotiated "in good faith" with Gazapian allowing him to remain in the main hangar until his ground lease was secured, he breached his agreement by once again refusing to surrender the main hangar lease, the letter states.

On March 21, a request for a temporary restraining order against the city was filed by Gazapian's attorneys asking that the city be prohibited from evicting Gazapian's company, Tailwinds, from the main hangar building, for trespassing in the main hangar as described in the lease; removing any property of Tailwinds from the main hangar; preventing Tailwinds from continuing to use the main hangar building as described in the lease; prohibiting the city from changing the locks on the main hangar building as described on the lease; and prohibiting the city from interfering with Tailwinds use of the main hangar building.

There was a hearing for the temporary restraining order in April, but the judge said he needed to hear more testimony, and so it was continued on May 22. A judgement has not yet been made in the case.


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