Middletown Approves Temporary FBO at the Airport

Nov. 23, 2020

Nov. 20—After nearly one year of providing fixed-base operator services at the Middletown Regional Airport, city officials have decided to transition back to contracting these services.

Middletown City Council Tuesday approved an emergency ordinance for a six-month contract to provide FBO services and snow removal with Safe Skies LLC, an aviation business located at the city-owned airport. The contract was approved for $85,620 for the FBO services and $13,000 for snow removal, according to City Manager Jim Palenick.

Council voted 4-0 with Mayor Nicole Condrey abstaining. An Ohio Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion issued earlier this year requires the mayor to abstain from discussions or voting on certain airport issues because of her affiliation with Start Aviation.

During this interim basis, Assistant Economic Development Director Matt Eisenbraun will provide staff oversight on any non-FBO management services necessary to work with and complement Safe Skies, Palenick said.

The contract with Safe Skies will run from Dec. 1 through May 31, 2021, he said. During this interim period, Palenick said the city will be sending requests for proposals for a long-term FBO contract with a new entity starting June 1, 2021.

Palenick said those FBO services will include managing aircraft traffic and city equipment; managing the aircraft fueling services; providing service truck, crew car, and tie-down services; cleaning and maintaining vacant "T" hangars; providing multiple duties related to "community" hangars; and managing the FBO office and pilot lounge among a multiple of contractually-detailed requirements.

In 2019, the city notified the former operator, Start Aviation, that it would not renew its contract when it expired on Dec. 31, 2019, and the city would take over the FBO services. Start Aviation is affiliated with Start Skydiving, one of the airport's tenants, and was the airport's operator for more than 10 years.

At that time, Eisenbraun said, "the city chose to take over as (operator) after receiving numerous service complaints from pilots who were unable to get their planes fueled or serviced because the line services personnel were busy supporting the skydiving operations."

He said the city wanted the FBO "to be more customer focused so we can attract more transient users who want traditional core airport services."

For the past few years, the city and Start Skydiving have been embroiled in a dispute concerning issues with their hangar lease and most recently in May when the city moved the parachute landing zone. Since then, Start Skydiving has made allegations against the city in its efforts to operate the airport. The dispute delayed the city's efforts to complete the airport's master plan and layout plan because the parachute landing zone issue was not resolved.

Palenick said he and Start Skydiving are working out the issues as the city completes its airport master plan and airport layout plan. However, that remains in negotiations.

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